Navy Lt. j.g. Suzelle Thomas is the first woman in the service to go directly from flight school to flying the F-35C Lightning II, after earning her Wings of Gold last month.
While there are currently three women in the Navy who have transitioned from other aircraft to fly the F-35C, the Navy announced Saturday that Thomas is the first to have her initial assignment be an F-35C squadron.
The Navy said Thomas, a 2018 U.S. Naval Academy graduate originally from Birmingham, Alabama, is being assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 125 out of Naval Air Station LeMoore, California.
Thomas was among eight U.S. Navy aviators and one Italian navy aviator who earned their wings Oct. 29 during a ceremony at Naval Air Station Meridian in Mississippi.
“I feel blessed and it was an honor to finish with my fellow aviators,” Thomas said, according to a Navy news release. “We studied together, flew together and did everything together. I felt supported by everyone at VT-7. The instructors are very helpful and the squadron works as a team.”
“I have realized I will never fly with another person again since the F-35 is a one seater,” Thomas said. “I am looking forward to controlling the flight in a very advanced and tactical way.”
Thomas’ parents were present at the ceremony along with her mentor Capt. Beth Regoli, who passed down her own wings to Thomas.
Chief of Naval Air Training Rear Adm. Robert Westendorff praised Thomas during the ceremony for the commitment she exhibited during flight training.
“Getting through primary flight training and being selected for the advanced strike training pipeline is not an easy task,” Westendorff said, according to a Navy news release. “It requires a lot of hard work and dedication and the men and women here today have proven they have what it takes. I’m so proud of each of you and know you will continue to meet the challenges ahead.”
Cmdr. Dylan Porter, the commanding officer of Training Squadron 7, also lauded Thomas for her leadership while assigned to the squadron. Her accolades include being nominated to the Commodore’s List in primary flight training and being recognized as Training Squadron 7 student of the quarter this spring.
“She displayed the maturity and above-average aptitude in the aircraft to be selected for the F-35C platform,” Porter said, according to a Navy news release. “She stood out not only with her performance during her training here but also as a leader amongst her peers. Lt. j.g. Thomas will be a great asset to the fleet and I’m excited to see all that she accomplishes in the future.”
In 2015, then-Air Force Lt. Col. Christine Mau, who previously flew F-15s, became the first woman to fly the F-35.
Other notable aviation trailblazers flying the F-35 include Marine Corps officer Anneliese Satz, who became the first woman in the service to complete the F-35B syllabus as a major in 2019, and Marine Corps officer Catherine Stark, who was the first woman in the Marine Corps selected to fly the F-35C when she was a first lieutenant also in 2019.
Additionally, Air Force Capt. Emily “Banzai” Thompson became the first woman to fly the F-35A in combat in 2020.