A Virginia Beach-based Navy pilot has just made history, becoming the first female member of the beloved Blue Angels flight demonstration squad.
Lt. Amanda Lee, originally from Mounds View, Minn., is among the six newest officers selected to join the Blue Angels squadron for the 2023 air show season.
Lee is currently a member of the “Gladiators” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106, based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. The Gladiators’ mission is to train Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 Super Hornet Replacement Pilots and Weapon Systems Officers for the East Coast.
While hundreds of women have served in the U.S. Navy over the last 55 years, Lee is the first to represent them as a F/A-18E/F demonstration pilot. Capt. Katie Higgins, from Severna Park, Md., formerly served as pilot of “Fat Albert”, the C-130J Hercules aircraft we see circling before and during Blue Angels flight demonstrations. But Lt. Lee will join the team that flies the fighter jets themselves.
Each year, the Blue Angels select finalists to interview at NAS Pensacola, Fla., during the week of the Pensacola Beach Air Show. This year it took place July 6-9, and the six officers chosen were announced at the end of the week.
A couple of the other six selected will stir some local pride. New Blue Angel Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Zimmerman, from Baltimore, graduated from the Naval Academy in 2009. Zimmerman is currently assigned to the “Red Rippers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 11. And new Blue Angels flight surgeon Lt. Philippe Warren hails from Williamsburg, Va.
“We had an overwhelming number of applicants from all over the globe this year,” said Capt. Brian Kesselring, commanding officer and flight leader of the Blue Angels. “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.”
The new team members will report in September and take on a rigorous five-month training program at NAS Pensacola and Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif. beginning in November.
NAS Oceana, where Lee is stationed now, will hold its annual air show Sept. 17-18, 2022, headlined, of course, by the Blue Angels. The Angels have performed for crowds since 1946, attracting an estimated 500 million fans to their shows over the years.
-Meg Walburn Viviano