Military Aviation

Meet Lt. j.g. Suzelle Thomas, US Navy’s first woman to directly go for F-35C Lightning II conversion after getting Wings of Gold

US Navy’s first woman to directly go for F-35C Lightning II conversion.

The US Navy selected its first woman to go directly from earning designation as a naval aviator to postgraduate flight training in the F-35C Lightning II.

According to Chief of Naval Air Training and Naval Air Station Meridian Public Affairs news release, Lt. j.g. Suzelle Thomas, assigned to the “Eagles” of Training Squadron (VT) 7, received her Wings of Gold alongside seven fellow naval aviators and one Italian Navy aviator during a ceremony at the chapel onboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Meridian, Oct. 29.

Lt. j.g. Suzelle Thomas

Thomas was named to the Commodore’s List during primary flight training, during which she flew the T-6B Texan II turboprop aircraft. She was also named VT-7 Student of the Quarter for spring 2021. She carrier qualified in the T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft onboard aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).

“I feel blessed and it was an honor to finish with my fellow aviators,” Thomas said. “We studied together, flew together and did everything together. I felt supported by everyone at VT-7. The instructors are very helpful and the squadron works as a team.”

Thomas’s drive to succeed and help others achieve didn’t go unnoticed by leadership at her squadron.

Lt. j.g. Suzelle Thomas moments after she received her Wings of Gold during a pinning ceremony onboard Naval Air Station Meridian, Oct. 29, 2021. Thomas is the U.S. Navy’s first woman to directly select F-35C Lightning II postgraduate training after earning her Wings of Gold.

“We are extremely proud of Lt. j.g. Suzelle Thomas and her performance while she was here at VT-7,” Eagles Commanding Officer Cmdr. Dylan Porter said. “She displayed the maturity and above-average aptitude in the aircraft to be selected for the F-35C platform. She stood out not only with her performance during her training here, but also as a leader amongst her peers. Lt. j.g. Thomas will be a great asset to the fleet and I’m excited to see all that she accomplishes in the future.”

F-35C replacement squadron

Thomas will report to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 in Lemoore, California. VFA-125 is the fleet replacement squadron for the F-35C Lightning II. The F-35C is a powerful combination of fourth- and fifth-generation fighter aircraft with advanced electronic attack, and command and control capability.

“I have realized I will never fly with another person again since the F-35 is a one seater,” Thomas said. “I am looking forward to controlling the flight in a very advanced and tactical way.”

Thomas, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, is a 2018 graduate of the United States Naval Academy where she received a Bachelor of Science in political science. Thomas also received a master’s degree in security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

Thomas’ parents pinned on her naval aviator Wings of Gold – wings passed down from her mentor, Capt. Beth Regoli.

“I’m so proud of Suzelle, she has done so many great things,” Regoli said. “I have watched her develop and now earn her Wings of Gold. When she worked for me she was an outstanding midshipman.”

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35C Lightning II VFA-125 Rough Raiders, NJ406, 169160 / 2018

Regoli gave her wings to Thomas when she worked for her at the Naval Academy.

Three women in the Navy who transitioned from other aircraft to the F-35C

There are currently three women in the Navy who transitioned from other aircraft to the F-35C. In addition, Marine 1st Lt. Catherine Stark became the first woman in the Marine Corps to directly select F-35C after earning her Wings of Gold at Training Air Wing 1 in August 2019.

The F-35C

The F-35C carrier variant sets new standards in weapon system integration, lethality, maintainability, combat radius and payload that bring true multimission power projection capability from the sea.

The F-35C combines lessons learned from previous aircraft with technology breakthroughs to produce a fighter that retains its stealthy advantage with minimal low observable maintenance, even in the harshest shipboard conditions.

The F-35C matches 5th generation survivability with major advances in network-enabled mission systems, reliability and interoperability. It is a first-day-of-the-war fighter with the capability to dominate adversaries in the air or on the surface, while surviving the most formidable threat environments.

Capt. Beth Regoli, left, joins Lt. j.g. Suzelle Thomas following Thomas’ naval aviator winging ceremony at Naval Air station Meridian, Oct. 29, 2021. Regoli, Thomas’ mentor, passed her Wings of Gold to Thomas. Thomas is the U.S. Navy’s first woman to directly select F-35C Lightning II postgraduate training after earning her Wings of Gold.

Photo credit: Penny Randall and Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Anderson W. Branch / U.S. Navy

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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