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First Black female Navy tactical jet pilot speaks out on historic milestone

Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle spoke about her historic accomplishment in a newly released interview.

Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle made history earlier this month by becoming the Navy's first Black female tactical jet pilot.

On the 3rd hour of TODAY Wednesday, Sheinelle Jones shared Swegle's historic accomplishment, which was celebrated by many and put her on an elite list of other military trailblazers.

In an interview released by the Navy, Swegle said she never set out to make history. As a girl, she found her calling after being wowed by the Blue Angels, the elite flight demonstration squadron.

"They were just so cool," Swegle said. "I loved them. I just love the fast planes."

Lt Madeline Swegle
Lt. Madeline Swegle this month became the Navy's first Black female tactical jet pilot. U.S. Navy photo by Anne Owens/Released

Her parents always encouraged her to follow her dreams, so she applied and was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 2017. After that, she enrolled in a tactical pilot training program and trained among the country's top pilots for three years.

"It's amazing to think about where I started," she said. "I had never been in an airplane before, so it's just one step at a time."

On July 31, Swegle will receive her Wings of Gold, certifying that she has completed her tactical training.

"We are incredibly proud to hear that one of our own, Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle, will hit a milestone July 31, not just in her own personal career as an aviator but also for Naval Aviation, when she earns her Wings of Gold as the first African American female U.S. Navy tactical air (TACAIR) jet pilot," Vice Adm. Sean S. Buck said in a statement to TODAY last week.

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"It is a significant achievement to qualify as a tactical jet pilot flying from our nation's carriers day and night, and her success serves as an inspiration for all who aspire to be naval aviators. Fly Navy!"

Swegle joins other trailblazing pilots like Rosemary Mariner, who became the Navy's first female fighter pilot in 1974, and Brenda Robinson, who six years later became the Navy's first Black female pilot. Mariner died last year at 65.

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

The Navy has long been criticized for the lack of diversity in its ranks.

A 2018 investigation found that out of roughly 1,400 FA-18 Hornet pilots, only 33 were women and just 26 were Black. In June, the Navy created a special task force designed to "address the issues of racism, sexism and other descriptive biases and their impact on naval readiness."

Swegle said that she hopes her achievement will pave the way for diverse pilots everywhere.

"I hope my legacy will be that there will be a lot of other women, minority women, different faces that come forward and know that they have all the tools they need and follow their dreams," she said.