First Woman Blue Angels Jet Demonstration Pilot Selected (Updated)

The iconic Navy aerobatic team has made history by selecting its first woman member of its core six-jet display cadre.

byHoward AltmanJul 17, 2022 11:10 PM
First Woman Blue Angels Jet Demonstration Pilot Selected (Updated)
Blue Angel Hornets fly in formation to a show location. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Johnson
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For the first time in its 76-year history, the Navy’s Blue Angels will have a woman flying as part of its core six-ship jet demonstration team.

A woman pilot has been selected to join that team in this capacity for what will be a historic 2023 season, a source with direct knowledge of the situation confirms to The War Zone.

"She has been selected as the first female F/A-18 demonstration pilot," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the topic before the Navy releases the information publicly.

The War Zone is aware of the identity of the pilot, but we are holding off naming her pending the official announcement.

UPDATE: Lt. Amanda "Stalin" Lee has been officially named as selected for 2023 season demo pilot by the Blue Angles, you can read all about her in our new post here.

The Blue Angels diamond break. (Navy/Blue Angels)

In a statement to The War Zone, Lt. Chelsea M. Dietlin, the Blue Angels spokesperson, did not deny a woman had been selected as a jet demo pilot for the team, but noted: "Women have been flying the Super Hornet in the Navy for over 30 years. The Blue Angels do not currently have a female F/A-18 pilot. You can find our current roster of team members at www.BlueAngels.Navy.Mil. We will be sure to send you the 2023 team member announcement when that is available. Thank you for your support and interest in the team!"

Officially known as the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, The Blue Angels were formed in 1946 at the behest of then-Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Chester Nimitz, who “had a vision to create a flight exhibition team in order to raise the public's interest in naval aviation and boost Navy morale.”

The precision acrobatics started off with F6 Hellcats, F8 Bearcats and F9 Panthers and are now performed by F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, with the teaming converting from the F/A-18A/B/C/D Legacy Hornet in 2021.

Word about the hiring of the first woman pilot began circulating Wednesday night after an audio clip and accompanying description were posted in the RadioReference.com forums. Bill Bagley, a radio interceptor, picked up an in-flight conversation between two Blue Angels pilots as they were headed to an airshow in Ypsilanti, Michigan on Wednesday. 

“I know nobody knows that we've hired a female pilot, but like, by the time we hire a [public affairs officer] they're gonna know,” said one of the pilots. “So we're gonna get people who want the job because they see it as like a, you know, a bullet point on their resume for something that they did like the Public Affairs for the first female Angel…”

"We hired the woman," one of the pilots said. "We can handle what comes after that. Like, we don't need the full spool-up from the Navy and again, they're gonna blow it up regardless of what we say."

While this woman will be the team's first jet pilot flying as part of the core six-ship demonstration team, she is not the first woman pilot on the team to fly in any part of the demonstration, in general.

That distinction goes to Maj. Katie Higgins Cook.

Cook piloted its C-130 support aircraft as part of the 2015 and 2016 teams.

While this pilot will become the first woman to fly with the Navy Blue Angels six-ship demonstration team, she is not the first woman to fly with a U.S. military jet demonstration team.

In November 2005, then-Lt.Col. Nicole Malachowski was selected to fly as Thunderbird No. 3 with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, becoming the first woman to fly on any Defense Department military jet demonstration team.

An experienced combat pilot, Malachowski served as a mission-ready fighter pilot in three operational F-15E fighter squadrons and flew over 188 combat hours in both Operation Deliberate Force and Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to her website. Retiring as a colonel, Malachowski had over 2,300 flight hours in six different Air Force aircraft: T-3, T-37, T-38, AT-38, F-15E, and the F-16C/D.

There have been other women since, of course, in the Thunderbirds and also to fly to lead single-ship demo teams for both the Navy and the Air Force, but not the Blue Angels.

Flying with the Blue Angels is very challenging for any pilot.

The Blue Angels’ Super Hornets received a number of modifications for their new role including the fitting of a heavy spring to the control stick which means the pilot must constantly exert 40 pounds of backward pressure on it, even in level flight.

This modification was carried over from the “Legacy” Hornet and it assists with delicate formation flying while in extremely close proximity to other aircraft. In addition, the team doesn't wear G-suits because the inflating of the bladders that squeeze the lower extremities to keep blood from pooling there under high-g maneuvers could throw off their finely tuned, always under pressure, stick inputs. In comparison, the Thunderbirds wear G-suits and their F-16s have pressure-controlled side-stick controllers.

The issue of whether a woman was capable of handling those inputs given the physical strength needed to do so for the duration of a Blue Angels demonstration, generally upwards of 45 minutes, was addressed in the Navy's findings of a complaint of sexual harassment at the Blue Angels. The report, which found no substantiation of gender discrimination when it came to demo team selection within the Blue Angels, addressed a PowerPoint presentation developed to show the challenges women faced wanting to fly as part of the demonstration team. It found that women were capable of flying jets for the demonstration team. It also found an overwhelming sense from team members that a woman would indeed be welcome:


Crites cited a PowerPoint presentation showing some of the challenges facing women wanting to joint the team. (Screenshot of the official Navy document).

Pilot skill aside, the dearth of women Navy pilots means a far smaller pool of potential female applicants for the Blue Angels core jet demonstration cadre.

As of June 30, the Navy had a total of 7,118 pilots, according to figures it provided The War Zone. Of those, 648, or about 9%, are women.

When it comes to fixed-wing aviation, the percentage of women is even smaller. Of 3,627 Navy fixed-wing pilots, 195, or a little more than 5%, are women.

But that disparity may be changing.

The Navy said that as of June 30, of 2,416 pilot trainees, 382 - or nearly 16% - are women.

Blue Angels in action. (US Navy/Blue Angels)

Cook, who flew Fat Albert from 2014 to 2016, acknowledged to the Pensacola News Journal that the pool of women pilots qualified to apply for the Blue Angels fighter jet demonstration squadron is small. But also the number of pilots within the pool who are at the right point in their careers to apply is even smaller. 

"The number of pilots with the qualifications and career timing and who are female is almost nonexistent and, in some years, is nonexistent," she said. 

Added to all of the other factors, the woman who eventually flies with the team will have to be the right fit. 

"Team members spend 300 days out of the year with each other. To be a cohesive team, the personalities have to gel. The candidate that is the best fit, gets the job — regardless of gender," she said.

The Blue Angels have finally found a female candidate that they believe is the right fit, an amazing pilot who just happens to be a woman, and is ready to make history for all to see.

An iconic American institution, the Blue Angels are changing with the times. (Blue Angels/Navy)

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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