Meet the U.S. Navy’s First Black Female Fighter Pilot, Who Will Get Her Wings on Friday

Lieutenant Madeline Swegle is ready for her wings.

The Virginia native, who made history by becoming the U.S. Navy's first known Black female tactical fighter pilot earlier this month, will be awarded her Wings of Gold during a ceremony on July 31. The Navy celebrated the achievement with a new video about her journey that was published on Tuesday.

"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," Swegle recalls in the video. "I don't remember specifically how old I was, but they were just so cool I loved them. I just love the fast planes."

But Swegle was so focused on her goals throughout her career that she wasn't aware she would be the first Black female tactical fighter pilot in the Navy's history after completing her undergraduate training in a T-45C Goshawk jet trainer.

"I don’t think the goal in my life is to necessarily be the first at anything," she said. "That was never something that I set out to do, it was just something I was interested in and I found out later."

For Swegle, flying a jet presented her with a challenge that was often exhilarating.

"It's fun because it is difficult at the same time. I know that I had to work to get [the jet] to behave, and it took a lot of fighting the aircraft and figuring out how it was going to perform," she explained in the video. "That was exciting. It really is rewarding having the plane do whatever you want it to."

"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," she continued. "It's really cool to think of all of the things I've done now which I'd never thought I'd be able to do."

Swegle graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2017, according to Stars and Stripes, and is currently assigned to the Redhawks of Training Squadron 21 in Kingsville, Texas.

"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," Matthew Maher, commanding officer of the training squadron, said in the video. "These are the best pilots in the world that are trained here. The very best."

Swegle hopes her milestone inspires other women of color to go after their ambitions.

"I think that representation is important because we are a very diverse nation. So I would like everyone to believe that they can achieve whatever they want to do," Swegle said.

"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 forward," she continued. "Be encouraged and just know that they have all the tools that they need, and follow their dreams."

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