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Blue Angels name first woman demonstration pilot

The Navy's Blue Angels perform a flyover of Houston on May 6, 2020, as part a tour of U.S. cities to honor first responders and essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic. (Spec. 2nd Class Cody Hendrix/Reuters)
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It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’ll actually be a woman in a plane the next time you look up.

The Navy announced Monday that Lt. Amanda Lee of Mounds View, Minn., will be the first woman demonstration pilot for the Blue Angels, the world’s second-oldest aerobatic team.

“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, which flies Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets. “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.”

Hundreds of women have served with the Blue Angels over the years, but Lee, a 2013 Old Dominion University graduate, is the first to fly a twin-engine, carrier-capable, multirole fighter aircraft for the delight of crowds. Marine Maj. Katie Cook became a Blue Angel pilot in 2015, flying an extended-range tanker known as “Fat Albert,” but she wasn’t part of the demonstration team, as Lee is.

Lee and Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Zimmerman of Baltimore are the two pilots of the six-person crew that will be part of the 2023 show season.

Lee is currently assigned to the “Gladiators” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106, which is stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach.

She will join the 24 other highly talented women serving on the team today, Cmdr. Zach Harrell, spokesperson for the commander of Naval Air Forces, told The Washington Post.

Lee enlisted in the Navy in 2007 while attending the University of Minnesota and working at a UPS location, graduating from Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Ill., according to the Navy.

As an enlistee, she served as an aviation electronics technician, a career path that led to her being selected into a program that paves the way for sailors to become commissioned officers.

Lee received a bachelor’s of science in biochemistry at Old Dominion University and earned her commission in August 2013. By April 2016, she had become a naval aviator.

Just three years later, she was one of eight all-women naval aviators to pay an air tribute at the funeral of one of the Navy’s first woman jet pilots, retired Capt. Rosemary Mariner.

Lee was unavailable for an interview.

To become a Blue Angel, aviators must be carrier-qualified with approximately 1,250 tactical jet flight hours by Sept. 30 of the year applying, Harrell said. They should also have completed an operational fleet tour along with advanced flight training with an average or greater composite score.

Blue Angels are scouted during each year’s Pensacola Beach Air Show, where the team showcases its flight skills, and then selected at the end of the week-long event.

Lee and other chosen members will report to the squadron in September for a two-month turnover period before embarking on an intensive five-month training program at NAS Pensacola and Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif.

The Blue Angels have been around for more than 70 years. Adm. Chester Nimitz ordered a flight demonstration team be assembled toward the end of World War II. The aircrew was established to generate public interest in naval aviation and to boost the branch’s morale.

The team has performed for more than 450 million onlookers since its inception.