Soaring through the glass ceilings of both her gender and race, Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle has made history as the US Navy’s first Black female tactical aircraft pilot.
“BZ to Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle on completing the Tactical Air (Strike) aviator syllabus,” the Chief of Naval Air Training wrote Thursday on Facebook, using the abbreviation BZ for Bravo Zulu, which means “well done.”
“Swegle is the U.S. Navy’s first known Black female TACAIR pilot and will receive her Wings of Gold later this month,” the post continued.
Her completion of the tactical air training program paves the way for her to fly fighter jets such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter or the EA-18G Growler, according to the Navy Times.
Rear Adm. Paula Dunn, the Navy’s vice chief of information, also congratulated Swegle by tweeting, “Very proud of LTJG Swegle. Go forth and kick butt.”
Public figures such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and tennis legend Billie Jean King also chimed in with their support.
“Congratulations, LTJG Swegle! You make the @USNavy and our country stronger,” Warren tweeted.
Swegle’s history-making accomplishment comes nearly 110 years after the beginning of naval aviation when an aircraft, flown by Eugene Burton Ely, took off from the cruiser USS Birmingham anchored in the Chesapeake Bay on November 14, 1910, according to the official blog of the Navy.
In 1974, Rosemary Mariner became the first woman in the Navy to fly a tactical jet. And in the 1980s, Brenda Robinson was the first African American woman to earn her wings of gold and become a Navy flight instructor, evaluator and VIP transport pilot, according to the non-profit organization Women in Aviation International.
The Navy has been criticized for the lack of diversity in its aviation programs. A 2018 investigation from Military.com found that Black pilots were rare in the service, especially in fighter units. Just 1.9% of all pilots assigned to the F/A-18 Hornet, EA-18 Growler, E-2 Hawkeye and C-2 Greyhound were Black. Out of 1,404 Hornet pilots, just 33 were female and 26 were Black.
On June 30, the Navy announced it created a special task force called “Task Force One Navy” to address the issues of “racism, sexism and other destructive biases and their impact on naval readiness.”
“As a Navy — uniform and civilian, active and reserve – we cannot tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind. We must work to identify and eliminate individual and systemic racism within our force,” Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday said in a statement at the time.