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Trailblazer in the Sky

Capt. Rosemary Mariner

To honor the remarkable career of aviation pioneer Navy Capt. Rosemary Mariner, who died Jan. 24, the Navy conducted its first-ever all-female missing man formation flyover Feb. 2 during Mariner's funeral in Maynardville, Tenn., a fitting tribute to the trailblazing pilot who became one of the first women to fly naval aircraft.

“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 said before the ceremony.

According to a Navy News Service statement, the missing man flyover is a special tribute performed to honor the service of aviators. The maneuver begins with four aircraft flying in formation above a funeral service, then one of the aircraft leaves the formation and climbs vertically into the heavens.

Mariner had wanted to be a pilot long before she ever got her wings. She grew up as the daughter of a Navy nurse and a captain in the Army Air Corps (the predecessor to the Air Force), who both served during World War II, and her love for aviation and service began at home in Harlingen, Texas. Mariner learned to fly at 15 and was already a licensed pilot before joining the Navy in 1973.

Rosemary Mariner collage

After graduating from the Purdue University aeronautics program, she jumped at the opportunity to become a Navy pilot, said her husband, retired Cmdr. Tommie Mariner. When she was selected to participate in a newly created flight training program Mariner became one of only six women chosen to begin flying military aircraft. She would accomplish another milestone when she was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV 16), becoming one of the first women to be stationed aboard a naval vessel.

At the time, women were restricted to non-combat roles, however, which meant Mariner was only allowed to fly propeller aircraft. However, Mariner was determined to fly jets, and continued to train. She earned her surface warfare designation on the Lexington.

She would go on to become the first female fighter jet pilot, and, when she was assigned to Pacific Missile Test Center in 1990, she also became the first woman selected to command a military aviation squadron. Mariner flew combat support missions during the early stages of the Gulf War and eventually logged more than 3,500 flight hours in 15 different aircraft during her naval career.
Rosemary Mariner collage

She achieved the rank of captain and retired in 1997, but continued her legacy of service even after leaving the Navy. Mariner taught military history at the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee.

Mariner also served as an adviser to the Department of Defense on defense policy and the integration of women in the military. As an advisory board member, Mariner provided congressional testimony in support of women having more opportunities across all naval platforms and commands. In addition, her efforts to reverse regulations that kept women from combat helped result in combat roles being opened to women across the entire Department of Defense.