Blue Angels arrive: Team includes first female pilot (2024)

Blue Angels arrive: Team includes first female pilot (1)

A video screen grab shows Lt. Cmdr. Amanda Lee, the first female Blue Angels F/A-18 Super Hornet demonstration pilot. (U.S. Navy)

TRAVERSE CITYMich. — The first female to fly in the U.S. Navy Blue Angels touched down at Cherry Capital Airport Thursday afternoon following a practice run over Grand Traverse Bay.

Dressed in a spotless blue and yellow flight suit, Lieutenant Commander Amanda Lee, 38, met with reporters on the tarmac at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station just south of Parsons Road. Her polished blue F/A-18 Super Hornet stood just behind her.

“It’s absolutely beautiful up here!” she said after the practice flight. “It reminds me of flying over Lake Tahoe — the colors in the water. My husband even asked me if we might move here someday. What are the winters like?”

Inside the Coast Guard hangar, a volunteer made sure that Lee had her first taste of genuine Michigan cherry pie.

Lee is one of 17 officers who travel with the 160-person Blue Angels team. They perform high-speed acrobatics and precision maneuvers at 32 sites per year, said Navy Public Affairs specialist Cody Deccio.

During three winter months, they train and study, while also taking time to share knowledge with incoming pilots, he added.

Blue Angels legacy

This summer marks the 78th year for the Blue Angels, which was established in 1946 right after World War II with two primary missions: No. 1) To represent the men and women who currently serve in the Navy and Marine Corps; and No. 2) To showcase “the excitement, precision, and power of naval aviation both at home and abroad.”

High-performance aerial performance teams like the Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are perennial favorites at the National Cherry Fest, drawing huge crowds from around the Midwest.

Local officials and air show fans were relieved in mid-April when a dispute between NCF and the airport authority was finally resolved following months of sometimes contentious negotiations.

The resulting three-year agreement allows the air show to continue with some modifications designed to accommodate the growing commercial airline service into TVC.

This year, the Blue Angels’ official air show performances are scheduled for June 29-30, from 1-4 p.m. on each day, according to officials at the National Cherry Festival.

Out of Minnesota

Lt. Commander Lee is not just the first female pilot in the Blue Angels, she’s also an enthusiastic advocate for the Navy and military service in general.

“The range of opportunities available to both men and women is truly amazing,” she said. “When I was younger, I was thinking about going into medicine. Now I’m flying jets with the Blue Angels — who would’ve guessed that would happen?

“I would strongly encourage young people to explore a future in the military. There’s so much to do and so much to learn.”

Born in Mounds View, Minnesota, near the Twin Cities, Lee was an avid athlete in high school, competing in soccer, ice hockey and swimming. While studying at the University of Minnesota Duluth, she enlisted in the Navy as an Aviation Electronic Technician.

In 2009, Lee was selected to train as a pilot through the “Seaman-to-Admiral” commissioning program. The following year, she attended the Naval Science Institute for officer training in Newport, Rhode Island, and simultaneously began her studies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where she received a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry.

Blue Angels arrive: Team includes first female pilot (3)

A video screen grab shows Navy Blue Angels pilot Lt. Cmdr. Amanda Lee in her flight gear. (U.S. Navy)

Lee joined the Blue Angels in September 2022. Since then, she has logged more than 1,800 flight hours and more than 225 carrier-arrested landings, which she called “a whole different experience than landing on the ground.”

On the tarmac, Lee was joined by Shelby Parker, a member of the Blue Angels support crew who happens to be from Michigan.

Both Parker and Lee said being a woman in the modern Navy is different than it was 30 years ago.

“We’ve treated the same as everybody else,” Parker said with a smile. “We’re part of the team.”

Lee made a point of thanking the women from the 1970s who blazed the way for women entering the military.

“I applaud what they did, and people like me benefit from their pioneering spirit.”

Beyond acrobatics

Not only does Lee fly a sleek F/A-18, she also teaches new pilots how to fly the aircraft, a skill she learned during many years of active duty service in various theaters.

After earning her pilot wings, Lee completed two combat deployments aboard the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier supporting Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Operation Freedom Sentinel in Afghanistan and NATO Exercise Trident Junction in Norway.

Along the way, she served in a variety of officer roles both aboard ship and on land.

Full of smiles and optimism, Lee is not one to brag. However, a Navy spokesman noted separately that she has earned numerous medals and unit awards, including the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

Blue Angels arrive: Team includes first female pilot (4)

A video screen grab shows a slide celebrating the 50 years that women have been in naval aviation. Navy Blue Angels pilot Lt. Cmdr. Amanda Lee is in the co*ckpit of her aircraft in the center. (U.S. Navy)

Asked what it’s like to soar with the Blue Angels today, Lee said it’s “unlike anything else in flight. We really aim for perfection, even if that’s not entirely possible. We practice hard and learn together.”

Lee’s father is coming to Traverse City this week to watch her team perform. She also has a younger sister who served four years in the Navy.

Insider facts

Pilots in the Blue Angels team, who typically fly for 2-3 years, wear special headgear to protect their hearing, including noise-canceling devices. During flight, they communicate with each other — and the ground control station — via radio.

One of the biggest challenges the pilots face is learning where ground hazards are in each no place they visit.

The Grand Traverse Bay area is “like a ‘bowl” with its own unique topography, Lee said. And the presence of a large body of water next to hills affects the air currents.

To help prepare for a local air show, the pilots use a variety of tools, including 3D imaging software to highlight important obstacles that may present a hazard to low-flying, high-speed aircraft.

“We keep the program as standard as possible,” Lee explained. “That consistency helps keep us safe.”

Spokesman Deccio was quick to point out that pilots aren’t the only important members of the team. The Blue Angels also travels with a large contingent of maintenance and support specialists, all of whom are career-oriented enlisted Sailors or Marines who must pass a rigorous selection process after being recommended by their commanding officers.

Most of the support team arrive at an air show site in a Navy C-130J “Super Hercules” — a prop-driven cargo plane affectionately known as “Fat Albert.”

In addition to team members, it also carries about eight metal pallets full of specialized equipment and materials needed to keep the F/A-18s in good working condition.

The Blue Angels air show pilots started flying F/A-18 Super Hornets in 2021. Before that, the team performed in a wide variety of aircraft, including the F6 Hellcat, the F8 Bearcat, the F9 Panther and F-11 Tiger.

In the 1960s, they transitioned to the F-4 Phantom, the only two-seater flown in the famous delta formation. In 1974, they moved to the A-4 Skyhawk, a smaller and lighter aircraft with a tighter turning radius to enable “more dynamic flight demonstrations.”

(c)2024 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.)

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Blue Angels arrive: Team includes first female pilot (2024)


Blue Angels arrive: Team includes first female pilot? ›

Lt. Commander Lee is not just the first female pilot in the Blue Angels, she's also an enthusiastic advocate for the Navy and military service in general. “The range of opportunities available to both men and women is truly amazing,” she said. “When I was younger, I was thinking about going into medicine.

Do Blue Angels have 2 pilots? ›

A total of 17 officers voluntarily serve with the Blue Angels. Each year the team typically selects three tactical (fighter or fighter/attack) jet pilots, two support officers and one Marine Corps C-130 pilot to relieve departing members.

What is the first female pilot? ›

On 8 March 1910, Frenchwoman Elise Deroche (1882-1919), alias Baroness Raymonde de Laroche, became the world's first woman pilot to earn an airplane pilot licence; she received the 36th aeroplane pilot's licence issued by the Aeroclub de France, the world's first organization to issue pilot licences.

Who was the first female Navy fighter pilot? ›

First female aviators assigned to aircraft aboard Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). Lieutenant Kara Hultgreen became the first female carrier-based fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy.

Is Amanda Lee the first female blue angel? ›

She graduated from Old Dominion University in Richmond, Virginia, in 2013. ⁠ While she will become the first flight demonstration pilot to fly the Blue Angels' F/A-18 demonstration aircraft, she is not the team's first female pilot.

Who was the first female pilot of the Blue Angels Fat Albert? ›

Katie Higgins Cook (née Johnson) (born August 27, 1986) is an American aviator and officer in the United States Marine Corps. In 2015, she became the first female Blue Angels pilot, and flew the C-130 "Fat Albert" transport plane for two seasons.

How much does a Blue Angels pilot make a year? ›

How much does a Blue Angel Pilot make? As of Jun 22, 2024, the average annual pay for a Blue Angel Pilot in the United States is $130,916 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $62.94 an hour. This is the equivalent of $2,517/week or $10,909/month.

Are all Blue Angels top gun pilots? ›

Some current and former Blue Angels pilots have gone through TOPGUN; however, it is not a prerequisite. 6. Ambassadors of Goodwill: The Blue Angels visit more than 50,000 people between March and November (the show season) during hospital and school visits.

Can a civilian fly with the Blue Angels? ›

You are requesting to fly as a guest rider with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Although this squadron has tremendous experience and an outstanding safety record, these flights are considered high risk and can require a high level of physical fitness and stamina.

What is a female pilot called? ›

noun. , plural a·vi·a·tri·ces [ey-vee-, ey, -tr, uh, -seez]. a woman who is a pilot; aviator.

Who is the most famous female pilot? ›

Topping our list is the most famous female pilot of all time, Amelia Earhart.

How rare is a female pilot? ›

But professional female pilots constitute five percent of the piloting workforce, a statistic that has remained unmoved in four decades. Compared to other STEM fields and traditionally male-dominated industries, aviation has one of the lowest percentages of female participants.

Are there any female top gun pilots? ›

In honor of Veterans and Remembrance Day (November 11), Parsons' employee resource group for military veterans, spouses, family members, and allies hosted a conversation with CMDR Rebecca Calder, who was the first woman pilot to graduate from the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) in 2004.

How many females have graduated from Top Gun? ›

Breaking barriers in both the athletic and the military worlds, Calder hopes to inspire girls and young women to chase after their dreams, even if it means being the first to do so. As of now, her work has paved the way for 21 more women to graduate from TOPGUN.

Who was the female fighter pilot killed in the Navy? ›

Death. On October 25, 1994, Hultgreen died when her F-14A-95-GR, BuNo 160390, coded "NH 103," crashed on approach to USS Abraham Lincoln. Hultgreen was the first female fighter pilot in the U.S. military to die in a crash. The incident occurred off the coast of San Diego after a routine training mission.

Who was the first solo female aviator? ›

Bessica Raiche. On September 16, 1910, Bessica Raiche made the first accredited solo flight by a woman in the United States.

Are there any female fighter pilots in the US Navy? ›

The Marine Corps, the Navy and the Air Force all have female fighter pilots.

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