On Thursday morning, the Navy rolled out its plans for the Super Bowl this weekend with a splash — a segment on the country’s most watched morning show that proclaimed an all-female team of aviators would make a historic flight at the big game.
What neither the Navy nor “Good Morning America” mentioned, however, was that the announcement marked a change of plans as to how the service would honor 50 years of women sailors flying.
When the Navy first said that it would be performing the Super Bowl flyover, it was in a far more humble press release put out Jan. 27, 2023. It featured a lineup of 15 aviators — only three of whom were women and who are all flight officers, not pilots.
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Although that plan didn’t come with top TV spots, the service did release the names of the pilots and a set of “trading cards” with their photos on its image database. Navy-focused outlets like USNI News reported on the lineup at the time.
There were also posts on many of the Navy’s social media pages, too.
While most of these posts are now gone, a handful, complete with comments pointing out the lack of women in an event aimed at commemorating them, remain.
Cmdr. Zach Harrell, spokesman for the commander of Naval Air Forces, told Military.com in a phone call Thursday that the January announcement was not final but rather “initial information on the aircrew” that was “released before we had settled on the final lineup.”
The new plan, as described in a Navy document that’s dated Feb. 12, now features 16 aviators, including 11 female pilots and flight officers. The plan is even sorted by gender and highlights the enlisted ground crew that is supporting the aircraft and aviators as well.
Harrell explained that four planes — two F/A-18F Super Hornets, an E/A-18 Growler and an F-35C Lightning II — with seven female aviators aboard will make the actual flyover Sunday.
The extra nine aviators are in the plan to allow for last-minute substitutions or changes to the proposed lineup.
Harrell said that, while the plan was always to commemorate women in naval aviation, the Navy hit some logistical hurdles along the way.
“There are several challenges involved in gathering aviators from several different squadrons, and with women as 20% of the population in the Navy, it makes it harder,” he explained.
Despite first allowing women to train to become pilots in 1973, the Navy has struggled with female representation among its aviators. Women were also restricted to training and other non-combat roles until 1993.
As Harrell noted, the overall percentage of women in the sea service is around 20%, but most reports put the percentage of female Navy pilots somewhere between 7% and 12%, depending on the year.
The Navy has had female pilots make notable achievements. Last summer, its aerial demonstration squadron — the Blue Angels — announced that it had selected its first female jet pilot in the unit’s 76-year history. In 2021, Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt, also a Navy pilot, became the first female commander of an aircraft carrier.
“The whole focus for us is to really put out a lineup that helps us reinforce the message that we are commemorating the women that are serving in naval aviation,” Harrell said.
— Konstantin Toropin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.
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