Group of female Navy pilots taking to the skies, making history

Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 5:38 PM CST
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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WTKR/Gray News) - A few female Navy pilots in Virginia Beach are making history.

“It’s humbling to think, not everyone gets to do this,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Michelle Espinal.

The Navy pilot is walking a path few like her have traveled.

“Growing up, there’s nothing I ever thought that I couldn’t do because I was a female. It’s not how the world was when I was born,” Espinal said.

And Espinal doesn’t walk this path alone. She is one of five female pilots in the same squadron.

“It’s very exciting, like the best thing I could possibly do,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Amber Somma.

Espinal and Somma are joined by fellow Lieutenants Rebecca Ryan, Mikayla Sakach and Natalie Sava to make up the Strike Fighter Squadron 213 -- The Fighting Blacklions.

“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, this is pretty rare,” Sava said.

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, in 1993 when the military finally allowed women to fly combat missions.

Currently, women make up about 12 percent of all Navy pilots.

“There are some squadrons that still don’t have very many women, especially not aircrew side. But it’s awesome, seeing more and more women out there on the flight line,” Ryan said.

And that doesn’t diminish what these women and those who flew before them have accomplished.

“It’s even cooler to be with each other and have such a great female support system that we do in the command,” Sakach said.

The crew can soar to new heights above Virginia Beach while becoming the role models for the next generation of navy pilots.

“We have a lot of mentors, a lot of role models that they didn’t, they didn’t have that in the past,” Sava said.

And Espinal says go for it as the sky’s the limit for everyone.

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