New Blue Angels roster includes first female fighter pilot and former Navy men’s lacrosse player – Capital Gazette

When the Blue Angels fly over the Severn during commissioning week next May, an officer from Owings Mills and the squadron’s first female flying ace will be among those taking the stick.

The Navy announced the 2023 airshow slate on Monday. Lt. Amanda Lee, of Mounds View, Minn., is the first woman named to the elite flight squadron as a pilot, the Navy said. She will be joined by Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Zimmerman, 2009 graduate of the US Naval Academy. He is currently assigned to the “Red Rippers” of Strike Fighter Squadron 11 at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia.

Lee, a member of the “Gladiators” of Strike Fighter Squadron 106, graduated from Old Dominion University in 2013, the Blue Angels said Monday in a Facebook post the announcement of the new team. Her appointment comes 39 years after the military began training female pilots and 29 years after combat flight roles were opened up to women.

Lee’s Blue Angels milestone demonstrates that it took decades for women to catch up. The recent film “Top Gun: Maverick” was praised for including a female fighter pilot played by actress Monica Barbaro, but it also sparked calls for the military to promote more female pilots in real life.

“To remain the best military in the world, the United States must rely on the talents and abilities of all service members,” retired U.S. Air Force Col. Eileen A. Bjorkman wrote in a June editorial for the Washington Post. She noted that only 8% of Air Force pilots are women.

In the Navy, the number is between 7% and 12%, and more of them are applying to join the Blue Angels. Although women have been involved with the squadron in various roles for 55 years – including public relations, transport pilot and outgoing flight surgeon – Lee will be the first official demonstration pilot to fly the F planes. /A-18E/F.

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“We had an overwhelming number of applicants from around the world this year,” said Captain Brian Kesselring, Blue Angels squadron commander and flight leader. “We can’t wait to train our fantastic new team members, pass the torch and watch the amazing things this team will accomplish in 2023.”

Zimmerman is from Owings Mills and graduated in 2004 from St. Paul’s School in Baltimore County, where he was an outstanding athlete in three sports and an All-Metro lacrosse player. He played for three years on the Naval Academy lacrosse team, maintaining a 3.61 GPA while earning a degree in ocean engineering.

Monday’s Blue Angels announcement also named five other new members to the Pensacola, Fla.-based team, including US Marine Corps pilot Captain Samuel Petko of Osceola, Indiana.

Lt Cmdr. Brian Vaught, of Englewood, Colorado, has been named events coordinator. Lt Cmdr. Greg Jones, of Cary, North Carolina, will be the aircraft maintenance officer and Lt. Philippe Warren, of Williamsburg, Virginia, is the new flight surgeon.

Lee, Zimmerman and their fellow new Blue Angels will report to the squadron in September for a two-month transition period. Once the 2022 show season ends in November, they will embark on a rigorous five-month training program at Naval Air Station Pensacola and Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif.

The Blue Angels visit Annapolis each year to perform during commissioning week at the Naval Academy and, weather permitting, fly over Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium during graduation.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.