US Navy Milestone: First Black Female Tactical Air Pilot Receives Wings of Gold

When Lieutenant junior grade Madeline G. Swegle received her Wings of Gold she became the first Black female tactical air (TACAIR) pilot in the U.S. Navy.

“I’m excited to have this opportunity to work harder and fly high performance jet aircraft in the fleet. 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,” said Swegle.

Swegle, along with 25 classmates received their Wings of Gold in a small ceremony at Naval Air Station (NAS) Kingsville, Texas, last week.

Despite the challenges presented in the global pandemic, this is the largest class of graduating strike aviators in nearly a decade.

“We are all 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,” said Rear Adm. Robert Westendorff, Chief of Naval Air Training who oversees all undergraduate flight training.

Swegle is part of a new generation of TACAIR pilots that have qualified on the q state-of-the art Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE) unique to aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78): the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG). She completed carrier qualifications in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast, May 20.

A native of Virginia, Swegle, is a 2017 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. She reported to Naval Aviation Schools Command at NAS Pensacola, Florida and completed Initial Flight Screening and Aviation Preflight Indoctrination.

She completed Primary flight training with the “Boomers” of VT-27 at NAS Corpus Christi, and after selecting the TACAIR, or Strike, pipeline, Swegle progressed to Intermediate and Advanced training with VT-21.

Swegle is assigned to the “Redhawks” of Training Squadron (VT) 21 under Training Air Wing 2 at NAS Kingsville and completed her final undergraduate TACAIR training flight in a T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft July 7.

VT-21 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Matthew Maher had the honor of presenting Wings of Gold to each of his graduates during the ceremony.

Swegle and her classmates will advance to graduate-level flight training at their respective fleet replacement squadrons. Specific platform selection for the TACAIR training pipeline (F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, or F-35C Lightning II) usually occurs shortly before the winging ceremony.

Swegle will be reporting to the “Vikings” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129 at NAS Whidbey Island in Washington state to begin training as an EA-18G Growler pilot.
VAQ-129 trains new naval aviators, naval flight officers, and naval aircrewmen in electronic warfare tactics, techniques, and procedures in preparation for their fleet assignments.

The guest speaker for the winging ceremony was career naval aviator, Rear Adm. Sara Joyner, Chief of Legislative Affairs who joined via teleconference.

“I’m incredibly proud of Lt. j.g. Swegle and her classmates and am excited to welcome them all to the fleet. There’s more work to do to make sure that we recruit, train and retain a diverse force that represents the best and brightest of this nation. Everything in Naval Aviation requires teamwork, and you will be judged by your professionalism, demonstrated capability, and leadership,” said Joyner.

Swegle is following in the footsteps of Brenda E. Robinson who was the Navy’s first African American female naval aviator. Robinson earned her Wings of Gold June 6, 1980. She was the 42nd woman to be designated as a naval aviator.

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

Miller continued, “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.

Bravo Zulu to Lt. j.g. Swegle her Gold Winged classmates.

200707-N-OT909-1086
KINGSVILLE, Texas (July 7, 2020) Student Naval Aviator Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle, assigned to the Redhawks of Training Squadron (VT) 21 at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, exits a T-45C Goshawk training aircraft following her final flight to complete the undergraduate Tactical Air (Strike) pilot training syllabus, July 7, 2020. Swegle is the U.S. Navy’s first known Black female strike aviator and will receive her Wings of Gold during a ceremony July 31. (U.S. Navy photo by Anne Owens/Released)

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