On July 9, Lt. j.g. Madeline G. Swegle completed naval aviation training to become the first Black woman tactical fighter pilot in the history of the U.S. Navy.
Three weeks later, on July 31, Swegle received her “wings of gold” during a ceremony at Naval Air Station Kingsville in Texas alongside 25 classmates. The wings represent completion of basic helicopter training in naval flight school.
Despite the obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Navy reports that Swegle was part of the largest graduating class of strike aviators in nearly a decade.
A Virginia native, Swegle graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2017 and spent the following three years enrolled in a tactical pilot training program. Her groundbreaking accomplishment comes at a time when the Navy is seeking to reduce prejudices among its ranks and diversify its workforce.
According to demographics records from the U.S. Department of Defense, women accounted for 19.7 percent of Navy active duty members as of 2018; individuals from underrepresented racial groups totaled 38 percent.
In June, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday announced the creation of Task Force One Navy, a 20-member group that will focus on addressing racism, sexism, and “other structural and interpersonal biases,” according to its official charter.
In an official Navy interview, Swegle said she was inspired to become a pilot as a young girl after seeing the Blue Angels, a flight demonstration squadron. She never intended to be the first at anything — she just loved the “fast planes.” She attributes her success to the support of her parents, who encouraged her to follow her passion.
Like Rosemary Mariner, the first woman fighter pilot, and Brenda Robinson, the first Black woman pilot, Swegle has achieved a milestone that she hopes will inspire others.
“I hope my legacy will be that there will be a lot of other women, minority women, different faces that come forward and know that they have all the tools they need and follow their dreams,” Swegle told NBC News.●
Lisa O’Malley is the assistant editor for INSIGHT Into Diversity. This article was published in our September 2020 issue.