The U.S. Navy will celebrate a stunning personal accomplishment for one of its pilots and a milestone for naval aviation.
Friday at Naval Air Station Kingsville in South Texas, Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle cements her place in history as the Navy’s first Black female Tactical Air (TACAIR) pilot when she receives her Wings of Gold.
"I'm honored I get to wear the wings and get to fly planes and call myself a pilot," Swegle said in a video produced by the Navy. Swegle says she didn't set to be "the first" and learned later in her training she was indeed on the cusp of history.
"I think that representation is important because we are a very diverse nation," she said. "So, I would like everyone to believe that they can achieve whatever they want to do."
Swegle grew up in Virginia with parents who told her, "I could be whatever I wanted to be," she said. "We would see the Blue Angels whenever they were in town. I don't remember specifically how old I was, but they were just so cool. I loved them. Just loved the fast planes."
You see that love as her eyes light up when she talks about the planes she now flies.
"It was crazy to be in such a high-performance aircraft. I was really excited on takeoff, feeling the exhilaration and getting thrown back in the seat a little bit. That was awesome," she said with a smile.
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Swegle completed her final undergraduate TACAIR training flight in a T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft and was “soft winged” at NAS Kingsville, July 7
Swegle says the three-year journey to becoming one of the Navy's best pilots was long and there were times she didn't think she would make it.
"I'm glad that I kept pushing, and we're here, and I get to continue," she said.
"To show up here at this level, you have to be a top performer and then you have to continue to perform," said Matthew Maher, Commanding Officer Training Squadron (VT) 21 at NAS Kingsville. "There's always gonna be a first at some point, and here it is in 2020. She's it. The U.S. Navy's first black female tactical jet aviator. It may be a long time, coming but here she is, and there's gonna be more to follow now," he said in the Navy-produced video.
“Lt. j.g. Swegle has proven to be a courageous trailblazer,” Commander, Naval Air Forces Vice Adm. DeWolfe “Bullet” Miller III said in a statement. “She has joined a select group of people who earned Wings of Gold and answered the call to defend our nation from the air. The diversity of that group-with differences in background, skill and thought-makes us a stronger fighting force.”
After her winging ceremony, Swegle will report to her fleet replacement squadron (to be determined) where she will begin postgraduate training. Depending on the aircraft she selects, this could take up to approximately one year to complete, at which time she will be ready to deploy.
Swegle follows in the footsteps of the first Black female naval aviator, Brenda E. Robinson, who earned her Wings of Gold June 6, 1980, at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. Robinson flew multi-engine aircraft. Currently, 15 Black female naval aviators serve in the U.S. Navy-four pilots and 11 naval flight officers. The pilots fly either multi-engine aircraft or helicopters. There are currently 10 Black female student naval aviators in various stages of flight training.