The U.S. Navy quietly ditched a team of aviators scheduled to conduct a traditional flyover before Super Bowl LVII and replaced it with a group of all female aviators, Military.com reported Friday.
A final roster first announced Thursday on Good Morning America featured 11 female pilots and flight officers out of a total of 16 aviators, seven of which are scheduled to perform the spectacle kicking off Sunday’s big game, according to Military.com. However, the original group of 15 flight officers featured three women, according to a press release dated Jan. 27, and were presented as a commemoration of 50 years of female participation in the Navy’s aviation program.
“The flyover also commemorates 50 years of women flying in the U.S. Navy. In 1973 the first eight women began flight school in Pensacola, Fla., and one year later six of those eight women, titled “The First Six,” earned their Wings of Gold,” the press release stated. “Since then, women have served, operated and led at every level of Naval Aviation.”
The press release highlighted the various aircraft, including two F/A-18F Super Hornets, an F-35C Lightning II and an EA-18G Growler, that will demonstrate American “strike and electronic attack capability” at the game before delving into the pilots themselves.
The initial announcement, still reflected in some social media posts, shows a small number of comments deriding the apparent lack of women in a lineup that was supposed to honor female Navy aviators. Most of the initial social media posts have since been deleted, according to Military.com.
A formal plan dated Feb. 12 positions news of female aviators before the description of participating aircraft.
“To commemorate 50 years of women flying in the U.S. Navy, the service will conduct a flyover of State Farm Stadium during the national anthem with female aviators as part of the formation,” the document says. Biographies of the female flyers, standby pilots and ground crew follow, sorted by gender.
A spokesperson for the Naval Air Forces said the Jan. 27 press release described “initial information on the aircrew” that was “released before we had settled on the final lineup,” according to Military.com.
The Navy always intended the flyover to honor half a decade of female inclusion in naval aviation, but said the disproportionately small percentage of female aviators caused difficulties, Cmdr. Zach Harrell told Military.com. Women comprise somewhere between 7% and 12% of Navy pilots and about 20% of the service overall.
“There are several challenges involved in gathering aviators from several different squadrons, and with women as 20% of the population in the Navy, it makes it harder,” Harrell told the outlet.
“The whole focus for us is to really put out a lineup that helps us reinforce the message that we are commemorating the women that are serving in naval aviation,” he continued.