US Navy's first Black female tactical jet pilot gets her 'wings of gold'

Swegle was named a naval aviator and awarded her gold naval aviator wings with 25 classmates during a small ceremony at Naval Air Station Kingsville in Texas, according to the Navy.

“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.”

Swegle became the Navy’s first Black female strike pilot after completing tactical strike training at NAS Kingsville on July 7. A strike pilot flies the Navy’s strike aircraft, including fighter jets like the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter, or the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

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

Swegle’s landmark accomplishment follows the footsteps of other groundbreaking women and minorities in the US Navy, like Rosemary Mariner, who became the first female jet pilot in 1974, and Brenda Robinson, the first Black woman to become a Navy flight instructor, evaluator and VIP transport pilot in the 1980’s, according to the non-profit organization Women in Aviation International.
“I think representation is important because we are a very diverse nation,” Swegle said in a video released by the Navy earlier this week. “I would like everyone to believe that they can achieve whatever they want to do.”

Swegle graduated from the US Naval Academy in 2017 and completed initial flight screening at NAS Pensacola. She completed primary flight training at NAS Corpus Christi and finished her advanced strike training at NAS Kingsville. She completed her aircraft carrier qualifications in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast on May 20.

Swegle will now report to Electronic Attack Squadron 129 at NAS Whidbey Island in Washington to begin training as an EA-18G Growler pilot. The squadron trains new naval aviators, naval flight officers, and naval aircrewmen in electronic warfare tactics, techniques, and procedures in preparation for their fleet assignments, according to the Navy.
The EA-18G Growler is an electronic warfare aircraft, a specialized version of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jet, and is based on US aircraft carriers.

Waste of money! Warning Royal Navy's £3bn aircraft carriers could be ‘sitting ducks'

It comes after the National Audit Office (NAO) said the Navy had just one supply ship able to keep the Carrier Strike force stocked with food and ammunition while on operations.

The Whitehall spending watchdog warned this could hamper the Royal Navy’s ability to operate its two new aircraft carriers.

Tobias Ellwood, Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, warned that the aircraft carriers “it’ll be hotched and potched, only available for short operational journeys” without any support ships. 

He told The Telegraph: “It will be for display purposes only and that’s a very expensive toy.”

He compared it to “getting all these trains to arrive at the station at the same time” and warned of further delays.

The report also warned the new Crowsnest airborne radar systems, a crucial part of its defences for the new carriers, were running 18 months late further diminishing its capabilities during its first two years.

The NAO published its latest report on the vast “Carrier Strike” project which includes HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales warships.

The NAO report said that “MoD has made slow progress” developing three new support ships, which are crucial to Carrier Strike’s operation.

HMS Queen Elizabeth.

HMS Queen Elizabeth. (Image: Getty)

HMS Queen Elizabeth.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is one of the new aircraft carriers. (Image: Getty)

A competition to build three new vessels was scrapped due to concerns about value for money, delaying their introduction by up to three years.

The report added: “It has only one ship able to resupply the carriers with the supplies they need, such as ammunition and food.

“The MoD has long been aware that this will restrict Carrier Strike, and the cancellation of a recent competition to build new supply ships – because of concerns over value for money – mean they will not be available until the late 2020s.”

It also the MoD had yet to commit the funding required for enough Lightning II fighter jets to sustain the carriers over their expected 50-year operating life.

READ MORE: UK bolsters Royal Navy presence in Gibraltar with two new vessels


HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The NAO report raises concerns for the aircraft carriers. (Image: Getty)

It warned the NAO faced a “tight timetable” if it was to achieve its next milestone of developing a “full operating capability” – with two Lighting II squadrons operating from one of the carriers – by 2023.

It said the MoD had long been aware the lack of support ships would restrict the force’s “operational freedom” but had yet to come up with a solution.

The MoD had originally planned to acquire 138 Lightning IIs, to sustain Carrier Strike to the 2060s, it has so far only committed to buying 48.

But since 2017, the approved cost of the Lightning II project has risen from £9.1 billion to £10.5 billion, due to capability upgrades, with further increases expected.

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HMS Prince of Wales.

HMS Prince of Wales in Liverpool. (Image: Getty)

At the same time, the report revealed that the MoD had failed to develop an airlift capacity to support the force and was relying on ageing Merlin Mk 4 helicopters.

The helicopters were supposed to go out of service at the end of 2021. 

Overall, it warned the MoD may not have made sufficient provision in future years’ budgets to reflect the full costs of operating the carriers.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “It [The MoD] must pay much greater attention to the supporting capabilities needed to make full use of Carrier Strike.


HMS Prince of Wales.

The NAO report raises the raising costs to the taxpayer. (Image: Getty)

“The MoD also needs to get a firmer grip on the future costs of Carrier Strike. By failing to understand their full extent, it risks adding to the financial strain on a defence budget that is already unaffordable.”

In response, an MoD spokesman, said: “Carrier Strike is a complex challenge, which relies on a mix of capabilities and platforms.

“We remain committed to investing in this capability, which demonstrates the UK’s global role.

“Despite the disruptions of Covid-19, the Carrier Strike group is on track for its first operational deployment.”