Home » Aviation » Navy to Honor First Female Fighter Pilot with Female-Piloted Flyover at Funeral

Navy to Honor First Female Fighter Pilot with Female-Piloted Flyover at Funeral

Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia Beach, Virginia – ENS Rosemary Conatser (later Mariner) at the controls of a fleet composite Squadron Two, VC-2, S-2 Tracker Antisubmarine Aircraft. January 9, 1975. Via U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.

This post has been updated to correct the name of Cmdr. Paige Blok, which was misspelled in an initial version of the Navy’s press release.

The Navy will say goodbye to its first female fighter pilot with its first all-female flyover, the service told USNI News on Wednesday. 

Retired Capt. Rosemary Mariner, who served in the Navy from 1973 to 1997, had a career full of firsts: she was among the first women to earn her pilot wings in 1974, was the first woman to fly a tactical fighter jet in 1975, and was the first woman to command a naval aviation squadron in 1990, among others achievements.

Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia Beach, VA – ENS Rosemary Conaster (later Mariner) makes pre-flight checks of the main gear of a fleet composite squadron two, VC-2, S-2 tracker antisubmarine aircraft. Via U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.

To honor not only her achievements but also her work as an educator and mentor – to female pilots in particular – during and after her naval career, the Navy will perform its first all-female flyover during Mariner’s funeral on Saturday.

Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesman Cmdr. Dave Hecht told USNI News that the Navy had selected all female pilots to participate in this flyover, which is a first for the service, as well as one of two ground crew being female. Mariner had personally mentored some of the women involved in the flyover, he added.

Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia Beach, VA – ENS Rosemary Conaster (later Mariner) in the cockpit of a fleet composite Squadron Two, VC-2, S-2 tracker antisubmarine aircraft. She is a pilot of the squadron. January 9, 1975. Via U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.

According to an obituary, Mariner “graduated from Purdue University with a degree in aeronautics at 19. Captain Mariner was one of the first eight women selected to fly military aircraft in 1973. After flight training in 1974, she became the Navy’s first female jet pilot flying the A-4[E/L] and the A-7E Corsair II.”

A huge loss for our nation. Rosemary was a remarkable person, an incomparable aviator and a badass. RIP, Captain. We stand on the shoulders of giants like Rosemary Mariner. https://t.co/yYERT5w3sh

In 1990, then-Cmdr. Mariner assumed command of Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VAQ-34) at Naval Air Station Pt. Mugu in California, becoming the first woman to command a Navy aviation squadron.

Even after commanding an operational squadron during Operation Desert Shield, Mariner wasn’t done finding barriers to break down: In 1982, she became one of the first females to serve aboard a U.S. Navy warship, USS Lexington (CV-16), and qualify as a Surface Warfare Officer.

Mariner retired from the U.S. Navy in 1997 after obtaining the rank of captain and logging 17 carrier arrested landings and more than 3,500 flight hours in 15 different aircraft, according to the Navy.

Mariner died on Jan. 24 after a years-long battle with ovarian cancer. She was 65.


The following is the Navy’s statement regarding the flyover for retired Capt. Rosemary Mariner: 

NORFOLK, Va. – To honor the life and legacy of a female pioneer in Naval aviation, the U.S. Navy will conduct the first ever all-female flyover this Saturday, Feb. 2 in Maynardville, TN. Officially referred to as a “Missing Man Flyover,” the tribute will be part of the funeral service for retired Navy Captain, Rosemary Mariner, who passed away on Jan. 24 following a long and brave fight with cancer.

After completing flight training in 1974, Mariner was designated a naval aviator and received her Wings of Gold to became the Navy’s first female jet pilot, flying the A-4E/L “Skyhawk” and the A-7E “Corsair II”. She also was the first female military aviator to achieve command of an operational air squadron. During Operation Desert Storm, Mariner commanded Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron Thirty-Four (VAQ-34). In 1982, she reached yet another milestone by being among the first females to serve aboard a U.S. Navy warship, USS Lexington, and qualifying as a Surface Warfare Officer.

Mariner retired from the U.S. Navy in 1997 after obtaining the rank of Captain and logging seventeen carrier arrested landings, or “traps,” and completing over 3,500 flight hours in fifteen different aircraft.

The Missing Man Flyover is a special tribute honoring the service of aviators who have died serving their country. The maneuver features four aircraft flying above the funeral service in formation as one of the aircraft leaves the formation and climbs vertically into the heavens.

All of the aviators participating in the flyover are from squadrons based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana and will be flying F/A-18E/F “Super Hornets.”

The participants are:

  • Stacy Uttecht, Commanding Officer, Strike Fighter Squadron Thirty-Two (VFA-32)
  • Leslie Mintz, Executive Officer, VFA-213
  • Cmdr. Paige Blok, VFA-32
  • Cmdr. Danielle Thiriot, VFA-106
  • Cmdr. Jennifer Hesling, NAS Oceana
  • Christy Talisse, VFA-211
  • Amanda Lee, VFA-81
  • Emily Rixey, Strike Fighter Weapons School Atlantic

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Categories: Aviation
Megan Eckstein

About Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is a staff writer for USNI News. She previously covered Congress for Defense Daily and the U.S. surface navy and U.S. amphibious operations as an associate editor for Inside the Navy.

  • Curtis Conway

    Makes one wonder why we don’t have a female Blue Angel?!

    • Andy Ferguson


      IIRC, the Angels don’t fly with g-suits.

      • Curtis Conway

        The female body handles G’s better than the average male on the average. They have a lower center of gravity in their body on the average. If you have ever seen two women in a cat fight . . . don’t want to get in the middle of that. Flying is predominantly an artform, and the female mind is extremely creative, particularly if you ‘Just Pissed Her Off’ . . . like . . . killed her wingman!

      • Happy

        No. Air Force has had four, I think, female pilots in their Thunderbird flight demonstration team.

        • Curtis Conway

          Col. Nicole Margaret Ellingwood Malachowski (born September 26, 1974) is a retired United States Air Force officer and the first female pilot selected to fly as part of the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, better known as the Thunderbirds. Her aviator call sign is “FiFi”. She was an F-15 driver who transitioned into F-16 upon joining the team.

          • Rocco

            You should see the New hotty female F-16 viper demo pilot!!

      • Curtis Conway

        Lower center of gravity on average and have higher G-tolerance on average.

      • RDF

        G-suit gives you just one G. Its the grunting and clenching that matter. But this article is about Rosemary.

        • Curtis Conway

          Crunch Breathing!

    • Duane

      I understand that there has been at least one female Blue Angel – Marine Capt. Katie Higgins, in 2015.

      • Happy

        Capt Higgins was the first female pilot in the squadron, but she flew the KC-130 “Fat Albert” transport/refueler aircraft.

        • Curtis Conway

          Katie was in the 4-jet, not the single jet, but she was a rock star in heavies. THAT’s my Beef! We need a female single jet Hornet pilot in the Blue Angels, then the boys will have to grow up, like the Thunderbirds did.

          • Rocco

            What 4 jet?? The C-130 Fat Albert was a turbo prop!!

          • Secundius

            I think “Curtis” is referring to the “Diamond Formation” within the BA’s…

          • Rocco

            OK but happy never said that!!

          • Secundius

            Or even the “Missing Man” or “Finger Four”, just a guess…

  • Secundius

    I heard that she might have the inspiration for the character “Rita Moravia” in the Tom Clancy novel “The Minotaur”…

    • Rocco

      I red that book!! Great read!

      • Brian Smith

        Stephen Coonts wrote that.

        • Yes, Coonts. Clancy would never dream of such a character.

          • Secundius

            US Secret Service Agent “Andrea Price”…

  • afriendoftheauthor

    She’s shown flying an S-2 Tracker in 1975. That’s not a tactical fighter aircraft. Anyone have more details?

    • Duane

      Capt. Mariner also qualified on A-4C and A-7E.

    • Curtis Conway

      Mariner was born Rosemary Ann Merims in Harlingen, Texas and grew up in San Diego, California, with a keen interest in aircraft and flying. She worked odd jobs and washed aircraft to earn money for flying lessons and flight time. She graduated from Purdue University in December 1972 at age 19 with a degree in Aviation Technology. She had earned FAA flight engineer and pilot ratings before she joined the Navy. While in the Navy, Mariner earned a Master’s degree in National Security Strategy from the National War College.
      Navy career
      Rosemary Bryant Mariner (then Rosemary B. Conatser) joined the Naval service in 1973 after being selected as one of the first eight women to enter military pilot training. She completed women’s Officer Candidate School in Newport, RI, then headed to Pensacola, Florida for flight training. She was designated a naval Aviator in June 1974, one of the first six women to earn their wings as a United States Naval Aviator. The other five women to earn their wings were Barbara Allen Rainey, Jane Skiles O’Dea, Judith Ann Neuffer, Ana Marie Fuqua, and Joellen Drag. Mariner was among the first female military aviators to fly tactical jet aircraft, the A-4E/L Skyhawk, in 1975. In 1976, she converted to the A-7E Corsair II, the first woman to fly a front-line light attack aircraft.

      In 1990 Mariner became the first military woman to command an operational aviation squadron and was selected for major aviation shore command. During Operation Desert Storm, she commanded Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron Thirty Four (VAQ-34). Mariner was president of the Women Military Aviators organization from 1991 to 1993. She retired after twenty-four years of military service, a veteran of seventeen carrier landings with over 3500 military flight hours in fifteen different naval aircraft.
      Attribution: Wiki

      • NEC338x

        Her father was AAC and her mother a Navy nurse in WW2. She started flying when she was 15.

        • Curtis Conway

          I saw she grew up in the heart of the Confederate Air Force!

      • old guy

        Thanks for a great bio. I am chscking through my old files to be sure of the spelling of her name. You have it as Conatser, as I remembered it ,
        but the article has it as Conaster.

        • Curtis Conway

          Note the attribution at the end of the description.

    • Secundius

      A friend of mine posted this Blogsite…

      ( https : // laststandonzombieisland . com / 2019/01/29/vale-cpt-mariner/rosemary-bryant-mariner/ )

    • Ed L


    • Andy Ferguson

      Didn’t look at the photos OR read the article, I see.

      She flew A-7’s. Look at the photos, also.

    • NEC338x

      Page 15 of ninety-nines news 19780102. I’ll let you Google-fu.

    • Rocco

      The tactical aircraft was the A-4 Skyhawk & A-7 Corsair!! Read did you not!!

    • old guy

      That may have been the A/C she flew when on brief assignment as a chase plane pilot.

  • DaSaint

    RIP Captain. Another pioneering soul!

  • Ed L

    I bet she would have been a great Carrier Skipper

  • Rocco

    A Sad loss way too young!! A True pioneer in Naval aviation especially in a time when it was still a man’s world! RIP.👼⚓

  • Adrian Ah

    Any idea what proportion of US military pilots are female?

  • ballsoncrosbyschin

    what was her call sign ?

    • Secundius

      Couple of references referred to her as “Vale”, and another as “Romy”…

  • old guy

    Gone far too young. A loss to women pilot stature and the Navy. BZ.
    I had a brief acquaintence with LT(JG). Conatser, (later Mariner) when she was assigned to fly chase plane to the SES program, for 3 weeks. She was very bright and picked up the fine points of the task very quickly, ran the mission, aquired the data and was acknowledged by all as a top class, professional, pilot and officer.
    If I am correct, she flew airline 747s after retirement from Navy..

    • Rocco

      That’s great. The closest I came is walk on the same flight deck of Lady Lexington!! A ship should be named after her!!

  • At least there are no Richard Kemps here

  • publius_maximus_III

    Rest in peace, Captain. A Boilermaker and obviously a smart, talented, good-looking leader, not necessarily in that order. What the USN lost through retirement in 1997 the world loses today.

    Ladies, know the warning signs of cancer. My own wife is a 5-year survivor because of it.

  • JohnByron

    Rosemary was a fine naval officer. She paved the way for the rest of the fine naval officers not burdened with a chromosomal deficiency. God rest her soul.

  • RobM1981

    I dunno. I’m of the belief that her flyover should have contained the same aviators that any other naval aviator would receive. The point is “we are all elite, and we don’t divide ourselves by race, creed, color, or gender.” That kind of thing.

    I just think we have to get past all of this singling out business. First woman this. First (insert race) that. First Lutheran whatever.

    She flew jets and multi-engine props off of an aircraft carrier. Isn’t that enough to celebrate her for?

    Rest in Peace, Captain. It is reported that you were a fine aviator. I don’t care about your chromosomes, but I do care about your service. Thank you for it.

    • Duane

      It’s actually very significant that this aviator was the first of her gender to qualify as a Navy tac air pilot. She was the first .. a pioneer for her gender, undoubtedly having to overcome prejudice and stereotypes and hurdles no male pilot would confront. Just like the first black fighter pilots earlier in World War Two had to overcome hurdles that no white pilots faced, just because of their race.

      It is not “dividing us” to recognize and celebrate pioneers who overcome longstanding prejudices and restrictions and hurdles. Instead, it is uniting us to understand that each person needs to be judged on themselves, what they do, and how well they do it, and not be judged based upon superfluous matters like race, gender, national origin, etc.

      • RobM1981

        I don’t disagree that she was a pioneer, as are many other people who can claim the title “first.” What you say is true.

        What I’m saying is, the time has come to recognize the past as the past and let those kind of things be behind us.

        By all means include it in her eulogy. It is significant, of course. It should not, however, define her. It should not eclipse her other achievements. Being a woman didn’t make her a better aviator; being skilled made her a better aviator. She made it to four-stripes, and I surely hope that this wasn’t a token. I’d like to think that she earned those stripes, and I’d like to hear more about what she did to earn them. How she was as a friend and family member.

        Having men in the formation shows, to me, that she was – and is- viewed as an equal. Not special because she was a woman. Not superior or inferior.

        Being part of that team, the Naval Aviators, is exclusive enough, IMHO.

        • b2

          I know what you’re saying M81 but she was special and a great stick. A couple years senior to me but I was aware she was there! She not only hung with the best she could “out-fly” a whole lot of them. She was a successful Skipper too. If she were on AD today she would fast track CO/CAG/CVN Skipper/CSG commander. Guaranteed. That’s how good she was- RIP.

          I well remember how it was then- we believed that war was a man’s occupation not to be shared by women because men ran things and felt women’s historic roles as mothers and sisters and capable of child bearing and should be protected.. Seems quaint/dinosaur-like today but that is what we felt then. Sure beats how they treat women in a large part of the world…While I accept the reality of todays world with serving women warriors and have for decades now, I still feel in my bones it is not for the best, but I am glad those who thirst for it can do it…and keep my mouth shut because I am a dinosaur!

          Does she deserve this great Navy missing man formation and fanfare you and I will never see? You bethcha. She was a Pioneer.

          • Rocco


          • RobM1981

            That is a great post and a fantastic recollection. She sounds awesome.

            By all means she earned the formation and, as I say elsewhere, any specific requests. My only issue was the “all woman” flyover. Unless she asked for that, and it’s not said if she did or didn’t, I see no reason for it.

            Let me put it this way:based on what you write, I’m quite certain that there were many male aviators who cared deeply for her. Respected her. Admired her. Not because of her genetics, but because of her abilities.

            If she asked for all-women, that’s one thing. If not, then having some of the aviators that I describe here – men AND women who cared for her, as an aviator – would make a larger statement. To me.

        • Rocco

          Your points have merit! Here however on a special also sad occasion as this let the ladies have pride in doing this alone!!

      • Rocco

        A rare in agreement here!! One each this week lol.

    • Rocco

      Not in agreement!! Did you stop to think maybe that’s what she wanted!!!??? To take liberal political views over this is ridiculous even if it’s your opinion I don’t like it.

      • RobM1981

        That wasn’t reported. If she had asked for it then, of course. In general you give a person the funeral they ask for.

        Do you know that to be true?

        • Rocco

          No & usually wishes from the deceased aren’t made public! My point being don’t assume it wasn’t! Even if not it’s the right thing by her !

  • RDF

    I served with Rosemary in VX-5 at NWC in early 80s. She was Safety Officer while I was in OPs. She always tolerated us a heck of a lot better than we her. I am so sorry Tommy. Fair Winds and Following Seas Shipmate. The Republic Salutes you. We could have done you better.

  • Jolly Roger

    Judging from this article, the Navy seems to view its male pilots as inferior. Also, an “all-female flyover” is a brazen example of gender discrimination.

    • Duane

      what a snowflake

    • Rocco

      Gfys fake!!

  • George W

    This lady achieved something that no other American female had ever achieved. As an ex member of Her Majesties Royal Navy for 27 years, I know how much of ‘a mans world’ the armed forces used to be. When we saw the first Women at sea in our Navy, many people said it wouldn’t last, they couldn’t do the job. Yet here we are in our third decade of WRNs at sea and we see women commanding ships, flying aircraft and doing everything we men do. It’s ladies like Captain Rosemary Mariner who inspire these ladies to succeed. RIP great lady.

  • ConcernedinAlaska

    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
    I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air…
    Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
    I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
    Where never lark or even eagle flew —
    And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
    Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

    Rest in Peace Captain Mariner and thank you for your service and your mentoring of other fine aviators.

    • Rocco

      Nicely said!👼⚓