Lake Braddock alumna to become first female African American fighter pilot

Though she put away her jumping spikes a few years ago, Lake Braddock alumna Maddie Manhertz Swegle is still flying through the air, this time in a navy fighter jet. On Friday, she will become the first African American tactical air pilot.

Though she was primarily a long and triple jumper at Lake Braddock and later at the U.S. Naval Academy, Swegle was willing to pitch in on the track too, including running a leg of the 2012 AAA state champion outdoor 3200 meter relay team that finished with a six-second lead over West Springfield in 9:20.9.

“My guess is that she enjoyed jumping more than she enjoyed the 400 and 800, but if we needed her on a relay, she was always in,” said Bruins Coach Mike Mangan. “That tells you a lot about her, doing that for the state championship. She was super team oriented and her teammate adored her. People felt good just being around her.”

Swegle, a lieutenant (junior grade), completed her final training flight in a T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft July 7, according to the Navy, which did not make her available for interview.

In a brief video released by the Navy’s public affairs office, Swegle said she didn’t set out knowing she was on pace to break a racial barrier for pilots.

“It was just something I was interested in and I found out later,” she said.

Swegle recalled seeing the Blue Angels as a child.

“I loved the fast planes,” she said.

The process of learning flight skills appealed to her.

“It’s fun because it is difficult,” she said. “I knew that I had to work to get (the plane) to behave. It took a lot of fighting the aircraft and figuring out how it was going to perform.

“It’s really rewarding to have the plane do whatever you want it to. It takes time and you definitely notice yourself improving,”

Swegle wants her legacy to show that minority women will receive the encouragement to pursue their dreams.

“I think representation is important, I would like everyone to believe that they could achieve whatever they want to do,” she said.

Naval Cmdr. Matthew Maher anticipated her achievement leading the way for more minority women in naval aviation.

“It may be a long time coming, but here she is, and there’s going to be more to follow now,” he said.

Mangan wasn’t surprised by Swegle’s accomplishments.

“She was always ‘that girl’ achieving great things in high school, and now she’s ‘that woman’ doing it as an adult,” he said.

“I’m not surprised that Maddy did something incredibly awesome. I am a little surprised that it’s taken this long for the Navy to have a black tactical female pilot, but she’s the kind of person who would do it.”

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