VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Female Navy pilots are relatively rare, making up only about one in 10 of all of the military branch pilots. But one squadron based in Virginia features five of them, reports WTKR.
With each step on the flight line at Naval Air Station Oceana, Lt. Michelle Espinal walks a path few like her have traveled.
“It’s humbling to think, like, not everyone gets to do this,” said Espinal. “Growing up, there’s nothing I ever thought that I couldn’t do because I was a female. It just, it’s not how the world was when I was born.”
But she doesn’t walk alone.
Espinal is one of five female pilots in the same squadron -- unique for the Navy. The women of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213, The Fighting Blacklions, are: Lts. Espinal, Amber Somma, Rebecca Ryan, Mikayla Sakach and Natalie Sava.
“That sounded like the most exciting, like, best thing I could possibly do,” said Somma.
The cockpit of a fighter jet never seemed out of reach.
“It’s pretty epic, the job that we’re doing. So I think sometimes we get really wrapped up in the tactics and all that sort of stuff, but it’s cool to take a step back and be like, ‘Wow, like, this is pretty rare,’” said Sava
Rare, even after almost 50 years.
The Navy was the first branch of the U.S. military to welcome female aviators. That was in 1974. But it wasn’t until nearly two decades later, 1993, when the military finally allowed women to fly combat missions. Today, women make up about 12% of all Navy pilots.
The pace of progress can seem slow, though that doesn’t diminish what these women, and those who flew before them, have accomplished. In the air -- and with each other.
“There are some squadrons that still don’t have very many women, especially not aircrew side,” said Ryan. “But it’s awesome seeing more and more women out there on the flight line.”
“It’s even cooler to be with each other and have such a great female support system that we do in the command,” said Sakach.
“It’s a strong network of women. We have a lot of mentors, a lot of role models that they didn’t, they didn’t have that in the past,” said Sava.
Now as these five women soar to new heights above Virginia Beach, they become the role models for the next generation of Navy pilots.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. For any reason,” said Espinal.
The sky’s the limit.