Navy to Honor History-Making Jet Pilot, Rosemary Bryant Mariner, With First All-Female Flyover

Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution / Smithsonian Institution

Captain Rosemary Bryant Mariner died on Thursday, January 24 after living with ovarian cancer for five years. The military leader made history in her 65-year lifetime by becoming the first woman to fly a tactical fighter jet, one of the first six women to earn their Navy pilot wings, and the first woman to command an air squadron. Her funeral service in Maynardville, Tennessee will mark another milestone: The Navy plans to honor her with a flyover of all women pilots, a first in the branch's history, NBC News reports.

Mariner was born in 1953, at a time when women weren't allowed to be military pilots. Despite the rule, she dreamed of one day flying planes for her country, and she made sure she'd be the perfect candidate for the job if the opportunity ever arose. By age 17, she had obtained her private pilot's license, and by 19, she'd earned her aeronautics degree from Purdue University. The next year, the Navy began accepting women into its flight program, and Mariner was among the first class of female U.S. naval aviators.

Not only was she the first woman to fly a fighter jet and command other pilots, but she also became president of the Women Military Aviators organization in the early 1990s and fought to roll back combat restrictions on women in the military.

On Saturday, February 2, the Navy will honor the late captain with a "missing man flyover"—a ceremony reserved for prominent military members and political figures. During the service, women aviators from squadrons based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia will fly four F/A-18E/F Super Hornets in formation, culminating with one plane ascending vertically away from the group.

Though the late captain's husband, retired Navy commander Tommy Mariner, told NBC that Rosemary wouldn't have asked for an all-female flyover, he said it's wonderful that the Navy now has enough women members to make that possible.

[h/t NBC News]