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Fifty Years of Women in Naval Aviation


Eight women selected as the first female candidates to attend the U.S. Navy’s flight school, including four officers—Lieutenant (junior grade [j.g.]) Barbara A. Rainey, Lieutenant (j.g.) Judith A. Neuffer, Ensign Jane M. Skiles, and Ensign Kathleen L. McNary—and four civilians—Jo Anne Hellman, JoEllen M. Drag, Rosemary B. Merims, and Ana M. Scott.

Four women in uniform standing along a handrail. 

The first four female Navy officers chosen for flight training (left to right): Lt. (j.g.) Barbara A. Rainey, USN; Ensign Jane M. Skiles, USN; Lt. (j.g.) Judith A. Neuffer, USN; and Ensign Kathleen L. McNary, USN. (Naval History and Heritage Command [NHHC], NH 106751)


The first class of six women who earned their “wings of gold”:
Lieutenant (j.g.) Barbara A. Rainey, Lieutenant Judith N. Bruner, Lieutenant (j.g.) Jane S. O’Dea; Lieutenant (j.g.) JoEllen M. Drag; Lieutenant (j.g.) Ana Marie Scott, and Lieutenant (j.g.) Rosemary B. Conatser (formerly Merims).1


First women admitted to the Naval Academy and the Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS). Beth Hubert was among those selected in the first class for AOCS.


Brenda E. Robinson was among the first ten women selected to attend flight school in Pensacola, Florida. She was the first Black graduate from the school in June 1980.2


Lieutenant Donna Lynn Spruill became the first female naval aviator to qualify on an aircraft carrier in a fixed-wing aircraft.

428-GX-USN-1175088:   Lieutenant Donna Lynn Spruill, July 1979.    A C-1 trader cargo transport aircraft piloted by Lieutenant Donna Lynn Spruill of Fleet Logistical Support Squadron 40, VRC-40, is launched from the flight deck of USS Independenc...

Lt. Donna L. Spruill takes off from the flight deck of Independence (CV-12) on  20 July 1979. (National Archives and Records Administration [NARA], USN 428-GX-USN-1175088)

Two women seated in the cockpit of a plane, both indicating with a thumbs-up. 

Midshipman Cindy Mason and Lt. Mary Jorgenson take off in a TA-4 Skyhawk on 18 August 1980. (NARA, 6383137)

A woman seated in the cockpit of a training aircraft.

Ensign Gloria Darnstaedt prepares for take off in a T-28 Trojan trainer. (NARA, 558534)

A woman stands on a ladder next to the cockpit of an aircraft. 

Lt. Patricia A. Denkler performs a preflight check on a TA-4J Skyhawk, c. January 1982. (NARA, 6352970)


Lieutenant (j.g.) Beth Hubert became the first woman naval aviator to qualify as an A-6 Intruder pilot.


  • Ensign Mary Crawford became the first female flight officer in the U.S. Navy.

A woman in coveralls and a baseball cap boards an aircraft carrying a bag. 

Ensign Mary A. Crawford, the U.S. Navy's first woman naval flight officer (NFO), boards a ski-equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft from Antarctic Development Squadron 6 (VXE-6). (NARA, 6344419)

A woman stands with arms crossed in front of an aircraft. 

Lt. Patricia A. Denkler poses for a picture at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, c. 1982. (NARA, 6352973)

  • Lieutenant Patricia A. Denkler became the first woman to land a jet on an aircraft carrier.


Lieutenant Colleen Nevius earned her qualification as a helicopter pilot. She became the first female pilot to graduate from the Navy’s test pilot school.3

A woman stands in a flight suit in front of a helicopter. 

Lt. Colleen Nevius stands next to her helicopter at Kalamazoo, Michigan. (Woman's Collection, Texas Woman's University)


Commander Rosemary Bryant Mariner (formerly Conatser) became the first woman to command an aviation squadron.

Portrait of a white woman in blue Navy uniform.

Commander Rosemary B. Mariner, c. 1990. (U.S. Navy)


Wendy Lawrence became first female Naval Academy graduate to be selected as an astronaut.


  • The Navy allowed women to participate in combat units and fly combat missions.
  • Ensign Matice Wright became first Black female flight officer in the Navy.


A woman stands with arms crossed in a flight suit. 

Ensign Matice Wright, the U.S. Navy's first female naval flight officer of African American descent, poses for a photograph in May 1993 at Naval Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii. (NARA, 6483682)


  • First female aviators assigned to aircraft aboard Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72).
  • Lieutenant Kara Hultgreen became the first female carrier-based fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy.4

A woman in a flight suit holding a helmet in front of an aircraft.

Lt. Kara Hultgreen stands in front of an F-14A Tomcat, c. 1994. (U.S. Navy [USN])

  • Lieutenant Susan Still was the first female naval aviator selected for the space shuttle pilot instruction program.5


  • Captain Wendy Lawrence became the first female U.S. Naval Academy graduate in space.6 


  • Rear Admiral Wendi Carpenter became the first female admiral from naval aviation community.7


  • Lieutenant  (j.g.) Madeline Swegle became the first Black female tactical aircraft pilot.8

A woman in a flight suit stands with arms crossed in front of an aircraft.

Lt. j.g. Madeline G. Swegle, the Navy's first Black female tactical jet aviator, stands in front of a T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft on the Training Air Wing 2 flight line at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, July 17, 2020. Swegle completed her final training flight with the "Redhawks" of Training Squadron 21. (Lt. Michelle Tucker, USN, 200717-N-OU681-1014)

  • Navy helicopter pilot, Captain Amy Bauernschmidt, became the first woman to command a Navy aircraft carrier.

—Kati Engel, NHHC Communication and Outreach Division, February 2023




[1] Ens. Kathleen McNary was one of the two who dropped out of the program, but she remained in the service. Names and ranks as of last year of service: Lt. Cmdr. Barbara A. Rainey, Capt. Judith N. Bruner, Capt. Jane Skiles O’Dea; Capt. JoEllen Drag-Oslund; Capt. Ana Marie Fuqua; and Capt. Rosemary B. Mariner.

[2] "Lt. Cmdr. Brenda E. Robinson," Women in Aviation International, accessed 17 February 2023.

[3] Lt. Colleen Nevius had been subject to a reversal of a decision to send two female helicopter pilots aboard USS Kalamazoo in January 1980. The other pilot was Lt. (j.g.) Karen Thornton. Associated Press, “Navy Reverses Pilot Ruling,” Alabama Journal, 16 January 1980.

[4] On 25 October 1994, Hultgreen died in a crash during routine training exercises on the aircraft carrier Abraham LincolnFlorida Today, 29 October 1994.

[5] Roy A. Grossnick, United States Naval Aviation, 1910–1995 (Washington, DC: Naval History Center), 392.

[6] Biographical Data: Wendy B. Lawrence (Captain, USN), [PDF].

[7] U.S. Navy, “Rear Admiral Wendi Carpenter,” Flag Officer Biographies, last updated 5 January 2022.

[8] Department of Defense, “Face of Defense: An Aviator Trailblazer,” 1 September 2020. Lt. Swegle remains on active duty as of 15 February 2023.

Published: Mon Mar 20 13:16:29 EDT 2023