The U.S. Navy made history this past Saturday, as four F/A-18 Super Hornets piloted by female aviators flew over a quiet cemetery in Tennessee. Once they closed with a group of mourners below, one of the four fighters abruptly pulled up out of the formation in an aviation tradition meant to honor a fallen pilot commonly called the “missing man” formation.

Never before had four female pilots conducted this honorary maneuver, but then, making history was something of a tradition for the woman they honored: Captain Rosemary Mariner. Mariner, among the U.S. Navy’s first female pilots and the first woman to ever command a Navy squadron, not only demonstrated her courage and indomitable will throughout her military career, but beyond it as well, championing the idea of opening combat occupational specialties to women in the military. Mariner died on January 24 at the age of 65 after a difficult fight with ovarian cancer.

Ensign Rosemary Conaster (later Mariner), assigned to Fleet Composite Squadron (VC) 2, prepares for a flight in a Grumman S-2 Tracker antisubmarine aircraft at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Jan. 9, 1975. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

“Captain Mariner was so foundational in breaking down the barriers for women in naval aviation, and that’s why I’m so proud and honored to be able to participate in this flyover,” Lt. Cmdr. Paige Blok, one of the pilots in the formation, said of the event.

Female pilots were not authorized to fly combat missions until 1993, when Defense Secretary Les Aspin lifted those restrictions thanks in no small part to Mariner’s efforts working alongside members of Congress and the Defense Department advisory board. In a very palpable way, Captain Mariner led the way into the fight for female aviators from both the cockpit and the nation’s capital, earning her both the respect and admiration of many throughout the aviation community.

“It’s truly an honor, first of all, to be a part of something that’s honoring someone like Captain Mariner, who really was a trailblazer for female naval aviators,” said Cmdr. Stacy Uttecht, who participated in the formation on Saturday. “The second piece is just, it’s really awesome to be part of an all-female crew, something that the Navy has never done for a military flyover.”

Carey Lohrenz, the U.S. Navy’s first ever F-14 Tomcat pilot, was in attendance for Mariner’s funeral ceremony. She uploaded this touching video of the fly over to her Instagram account.


Feature images courtesy of the Dept. of Defense