U.S. Navy’s first Black female fighter pilot gets her Wings of Gold

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(CBS News)–Lieutenant Madeline Swegle, who made history as the U.S. Navy’s first Black female tactical fighter pilot, received her Wings of Gold on Friday. 

“I’m excited to have this opportunity to work harder and fly high performance jet aircraft in the fleet,” Swegle said in a statement released by the Navy. “It would’ve been nice to see someone who looked like me in this role; I never intended to be the first. I hope it’s encouraging to other people.”

The Virginia native celebrated her historic achievement earlier this month after she completed her training at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“Lt. j.g. Swegle has proven to be a courageous trailblazer,” said Commander, Naval Air Forces Vice Adm. DeWolfe “Bullet” Miller III. “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.”

In a video released by the Navy ahead of her ceremony, Swegle said she had aspirations of becoming a pilot since her parents would take her to see the Blue Angels.

“My parents raised me and they told me that I can be whatever I wanted to be. We would go see the Blue Angels when they were in town,” she said. “They were just so cool I loved them. I love fast planes.” 

Her early love of fast planes became the focus of her career and she describes her three years of training with a higher-performance aircraft “daunting,” but also described the thrill she felt.

“It was crazy to be in such a higher performance aircraft,” she said. “I was really excited on the takeoff, like feeling the exhilaration and getting thrown back in the seat a little bit.”

At times, Swegle admitted she didn’t think she would make it.

“It took a lot of fighting the aircraft to figure out how it was going to perform,” she said. “Looking back it’s amazing to think about where I started and I had never been in an airplane before so, it’s just one step at a time. It’s really cool to think of all of the things that I’ve done now which I’d never thought that I’d be able to do.”

“I am really honored that I get to wear the wings and get to fly planes and call myself a pilot,” said Swegle.

In the video, Matthew Maher, commanding officer of training, said that through her training, Swegle has achieved the standard of excellence.

“To show up here at this level, you need to be a top performer and then you have to continue to perform while you’re here. These are the best pilots in the world that are trained here, the very best,” said Maher. “She, just like all of her fellow Wingees, are at that standard of excellence and they’re going to go out and make all of us very proud.”

The young trailblazer hopes that her journey inspires others to join her field. “I think the representation is important because we are a very diverse nation,” she said in the video.

Swegle’s accomplishment comes 40 years after Brenda Robinson became the first African-American woman to earn her Wings of Gold, according to Women in Aviation.

“I hope that my legacy will be that there will be a lot of other women and minority women and just different faces that come. Be encouraged and know that they have all the tools that they need and follow their dreams,” she explained.

Swegle was designated a naval aviator and received her Wings of Gold with 25 others at Friday’s graduation ceremony which took place at the Naval Air Station in Kingsville, Texas.

She will head to Washington to begin training as an EA-18G Growler pilot. 

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