Navy Selects New Female Aviator For F-35C Training

Capt. Beth Regoli, left, joins Lt. j.g. Suzelle Thomas following Thomas’ naval aviator winging ceremony at Naval Air Station Meridian Oct. 29. Credit: Penny Randall

The U.S. Navy has selected newly minted naval aviator Lt. j.g. Suzelle Thomas to train for the F-35C Lightning II, marking the first time a woman has gone from earning her “Wings of Gold” to postgraduate flight training in the single-seat fighter aircraft, according to the service.

Lt. j.g. Suzelle Thomas. Credit: Penny Randall

Thomas’ selection was announced after the Birmingham, Alabama, native and student aviator assigned to Training Squadron (VT) 7 at Naval Air Station Meridian graduated flight training, receiving her Wings of Gold on October 29. She also has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in security studies.

According to the Navy, the service currently has three female pilots who transitioned from other aircraft to the F-35C. Also, Marine 1st Lt. Catherine Stark was selected for F-35C flight training upon earning her Wings of Gold in August 2019, marking a similar first milestone for the Marine Corps.

“Getting through primary flight training and being selected for the advanced strike training pipeline is not an easy task,” Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) Rear Adm. Robert D. Westendorff told flight training graduates during the Wings of Gold ceremony late last month.

During flight training, Thomas’ performance and leadership skills were noticed by her instructors.

“She displayed the maturity and above-average aptitude in the aircraft to be selected for the F-35C platform,” Training Squadron 7 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Dylan Porter said in a statement.

Thomas is now set to report to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 in Lemoore, California. The unit is the fleet replacement squadron forn the F-35C Lightning II, a carrier variant of the stealth combat aircraft with advanced electronic attacks, and command and control capability.

The honor is a game changer for the naval pilot.

“I have realized I will never fly with another person again since the F-35 is a one-seater,” Thomas said. “I am looking forward to controlling the flight in a very advanced and tactical way.”

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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