Lt. Madeline Swegle will celebrate her historic achievement on Friday when she is scheduled to receive her wings of gold, CBS News reported.
Swegle in a promotional video released by the Navy said she was inspired to become a fighter pilot after her parents took her to see displays from the Blue Angels as a kid.
“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,” she said. “They were just so cool I loved them. I love fast planes.”
Swegle said she hadn’t known she would be the first black woman to reach such heights in the Navy’s 110 years of aviation and stressed that “representation is important because we are a very diverse nation.”
“I don’t think the goal in my life is to necessarily be the first at anything,” Swegle added. “That was never something that I set out to do, it was just something I was interested in and I found out later.”
The Navy first permitted women to fly military aircraft in 1973, when aviation pioneer Rosemary Mariner and six other women were given their wings.
Swegle said she had not flown before her “daunting” three-year training and found the exhilaration to be unmatched.
“It took a lot of fighting the aircraft to figure out how it was going to perform,” she said.
“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,” Swegle added. “It’s really cool to think of all of the things that I’ve done now which I’d never thought that I’d be able to do.”
Women are still underrepresented among both Naval and commercial aviators, according to a 2018 report from the Pensacola News Journal. The Navy features 765 female pilots, about less than 7 percent of all its pilots across the ranks, Florida outlet found.
Matthew Maher, the Navy’s commanding officer of training, said he too was “supris[ed]” that there has not been a black woman before Swegle and that it was a “long time coming.” He added the Navy hadn’t confirmed the fact until Swegle had just a few flights remaining in her training.
“I hope that it inspires far more women and people of all kinds of diverse backgrounds to look at this as a great career choice,” Maher said. “It doesn’t matter who you are; what you look like; where you came from. Once you have the uniform on, we are all on the same team and we are all trying to accomplish the same mission.”