Captain Rosemary Mariner, USN, first woman to fly a tactical jet, passes away at 65

Captain Rosemary Mariner, USN, first woman to fly a tactical jet, passes away at 65
Rosemary Mariner, CO of VAQ-34, in an A-7E at NAS Lemoore (CA). USN via Defense News

[Ed. – Veterans will understand that the headline is phrased in a slightly silly manner, but that it’s really impossible to convey in so few words what Mariner did.  The real meaning of her pioneering career is that she was the first to fly tactical combat jets, at a time when there was no clear-cut career path for women in that role. She flew the A-4C Skyhawk, transitioned to the A-7E Corsair II, and became the first woman to command a fleet tactical jet squadron — VAQ-34, an adversary squadron (since decommissioned) — in 1990.  But she had time in a number of other aircraft as well, such as the old Grumman S-2 Tracker, a prop-driven anti-submarine warfare platform from the 1960s and 1970s.  She retired as a captain (O-6) in 1997.  I never knew her, but I had an instructor — another pioneering female pilot — who did.  That instructor said of Mariner: “All class; sheer grit.” Deepest condolences to Mariner’s husband, retired Commander Tommy Mariner, and her other family and friends.  R.I.P., shipmate.  Fair winds.]

The daughter of a Navy nurse and an Air Force pilot who had died in a plane crash when she was three, Mariner made it her goal to be as qualified as possible to fly in the armed services. She got her private pilot’s license at age 17. Then she got her aeronautics degree from Purdue University in 1972 when she was 19.

She was in the inaugural class of women who earned their Navy wings in 1973. Mariner then became the first woman to fly a tactical jet in 1974, at just 21 years old; in 1982, she was among the first women to serve aboard a U.S. Navy warship; in 1991, during the Gulf War, she became the first woman to command an aviation squadron. …

Capt. Mariner died at age 65 last Thursday of ovarian cancer, nearly five years after she had been diagnosed. At her funeral service on Saturday, the Navy plans to honor her with a “missing man flyover” — a tribute honoring aviators who have died — that will consist of all women. It will be the first all-female flyover ever conducted, the Navy said.

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