The US Navy’s first Black female tactical air pilot has received her ‘Wings of Gold’, marking a historic milestone for Naval Aviation.
Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle was awarded her gold naval aviator wings with 25 classmates during a small ceremony at Naval Air Station (NAS) Kingsville, in Texas, on Friday, July 31.
Naval aviators earn their Wings of Gold after completing aviation training and before being sent to their first unit. Swegle completed her training at naval flight school earlier this month, becoming the Navy’s first Black female strike pilot.
Swegle, from Virginia, is assigned to the ‘Redhawks’ of Training Squadron 21 under Training Air Wing 2 at NAS Kingsville. As a strike pilot, she will fly the Navy’s strike aircraft, including fighter jets like the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter.
She is the Navy’s first known Black female fighter pilot since naval aviation began nearly 110 years go, and follows in the footsteps of Brenda E. Robinson, the first African American female pilot in US Navy history who earned her Wings of Gold in June 1980.
‘I’m excited to have this opportunity to work harder and fly high performance jet aircraft in the fleet,’ Swegle said in a statement. ‘It would’ve been nice to see someone who looked like me in this role,’ she continued. ‘I never intended to be the first. I hope it’s encouraging to other people.’
Swegle reiterated these thoughts in a Navy video released ahead of the ceremony that was posted on YouTube, saying being the first to be awarded an achievement such as this one was never her intention.
‘I don’t think the goal in my life is to necessarily be the first at anything,’ she explained. ‘That was never something that I set out to do, it was just something I was interested in and I found out later.’
She added that her parents raised her to believe she could be ‘whatever [she] wanted to be’, recalling going as a child to see the elite Blue Angels, who are among the Navy’s most skilled pilots. ‘They were just so cool,’ she explained. ‘I loved them. I love fast planes.’
Commanding Officer Commander Matthew Maher presented Wings of Gold to each of his graduates during the ceremony, which was the largest graduating class of strike aviators in almost a decade – despite challenges faced throughout the global health crisis.
Chief of Naval Air Training Rear Admiral Robert Westendorff, who oversees all undergraduate flight training from the command headquarters at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, said he was ‘incredibly proud’ of Lt. j.g Swegle and the entire class.
This is a wonderful personal achievement but also a testament to their dedication and drive to succeed in the tactical air training pipeline. I wish them all every success at the next level learning to fly our fleet aircraft.
What an incredible achievement.