When the Blue Angels soar 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 control stick.
The Navy announced the 2023 air show roster Monday. Lt. Amanda Lee, of Mounds View, Minnesota, is the first woman named to the elite flight squadron as a pilot, the Navy said. She’ll be joined by Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Zimmerman, a 2009 graduate of the U.S. 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 announcing the new team. Her appointment comes 39 years after the military began training female pilots and 29 years after combat flight roles were opened to women.
Lee’s Blue Angels milestone demonstrates that has taken decades for women to catch up. The recent film “Top Gun: Maverick” may have won praise for including a female fighter pilot played by actress Monica Barbaro, but also garnered calls for the military to promote more female pilots in real life.
“To remain the best military in the world, the United States must draw on the talents and capabilities of all service members,” Ret. U.S. Air Force Col. Eileen A. Bjorkman wrote in a June op-ed for The Washington Post. She noted that just 8% of Air Force pilots are women.
In the Navy, the number is somewhere 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 the outgoing flight surgeon — Lee will be the first official demonstration pilot to fly the F/A-18E/F planes.
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“We had an overwhelming number of applicants from all over the globe this year,” said Capt. Brian Kesselring, the Blue Angels squadron’s commanding officer and flight leader. “We look forward to training our fantastic new team members, passing on the torch, and watching the incredible things this team will accomplish in 2023.”
Zimmerman is a 2004 graduate of St. Paul’s School in Baltimore County, where he was a standout three-sport athlete 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 of the team based in Pensacola, Fla., including U.S. Marine Corps pilot Capt. Samuel Petko of Osceola, Indiana.
Lt. Cmdr. Brian Vaught, of Englewood, Colorado, was named events coordinator. Lt. Cmdr. Greg Jones, of Cary, North Carolina, will be an aviation 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 concludes 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.