By Lt. Michelle Tucker
The U.S. Navy’s first Black female tactical air (TACAIR) pilot received her Wings of Gold July 31, marking a significant milestone for Naval Aviation.
Virginia native Lt. j.g. Madeline G. Swegle was designated a naval aviator and received her Wings of Gold with 25 classmates during a small ceremony at Naval Air Station (NAS) Kingsville, Texas.
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 presented Wings of Gold to each of his graduates during the ceremony.
Amidst the Navy’s response to the global pandemic, instructors and students adjusted to COVID-19 spread mitigation measures including sterilizing surfaces, wearing masks, and social distancing when practical. Despite these challenges, this is the largest graduating class of strike aviators in almost a decade.
Chief of Naval Air Training Rear Adm. Robert Westendorff oversees all undergraduate flight training from the command headquarters at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas.
“We are all incredibly proud of Lt. j.g Swegle and the entire class,” Westendorff said. “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.”
A 2017 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Swegle reported to Naval Aviation Schools Command at NAS Pensacola, Florida, where she 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 part of a new generation of TACAIR pilots to qualify on 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.
“I’m excited to have this opportunity to work harder and fly high performance jet aircraft in the fleet,” Swegle said. “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.”
Chief of Legislative Affairs Rear Adm. Sara Joyner, a career naval aviator, served as guest speaker for the ceremony via teleconference.
“I’m incredibly proud of Lt. j.g. Swegle and her classmates and am excited to welcome them all to the fleet,” Joyner said. “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.”
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) typically occurs shortly before the winging ceremony. Swegle will report to the “Vikings” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129 at NAS Whidbey Island in Washington 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.
Swegle follows in the footsteps of Brenda E. Robinson, the Navy’s first African American female naval aviator. Robinson earned her Wings of Gold June 6, 1980 and was the 42nd woman to be designated a naval aviator.
“Lt. j.g. Swegle has proven to be a courageous trailblazer,” Commander, Naval Air Forces Vice Adm. DeWolfe “Bullet” Miller III said. “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.”
Chief of Naval Air Training trains the world’s finest combat quality aviation professionals, delivering them at the right time, in the right numbers, and at the right cost to a naval force that is where it matters, when it matters.