Italian Navy Ensign Erika Raballo was designated a naval aviator, becoming service’s first female strike fighter pilot.
The first female strike fighter pilot in the history of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare), received her Wings of Gold after completing undergraduate flight training with the “Tigers” of Training Squadron (VT) 9 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Meridian, Mississippi, on Mar. 11, 2021. Ensign Erika Raballo was designated a naval aviator during a small winging ceremony at the base chapel with five classmates marking a significant milestone in Italian and U.S. Naval Aviation history.
“We are all incredibly proud of Ensign Raballo,” VT-9 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Meghan Angermann said in a public statement. “She has proven she is a capable, competent warfighter ready to take her strike aviation training to the next level. She and her classmates worked hard to get to this point and what they can and will accomplish in the future is limitless.”
Approximately 10 Italian Navy officers are sent to the U.S. each year to begin pilot training under Chief of Naval Air Training.
Ensign Raballo, from Alba, in northwestern Italy, completed primary flight training in T-6B Texan II turboprop trainer aircraft with the “Shooters” of VT-6 under Training Air Wing 5 at NAS Whiting Field in Milton, Florida.
Then, she reported to VT-9, to join a class of new generation strike fighter pilots qualifying on state-of-the-art Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE) used on aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) and all future Gerald R. Ford-class carriers: the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG).
She completed T-45C carrier qualifications on Ford in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast, Feb. 5, which she said was her favorite part of the strike pilot training pipeline.
“Landing on the aircraft carrier for the first time was mind-blowing,” Raballo said. “I was so nervous at first and I have to say thank you to my paddles (landing signals officers), Lt. Allen Vohden and Lt. Sean Lawrence, for all the patience and effort they put into preparing me skill-wise and mentally for that big challenge.”
The final event before Raballo’s graduation took place in a U.S. Navy’s T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft on March 10, 2021. Her squadron mates were waiting on the Training Air Wing 1 flight line for a traditional “soft winging” ceremony during which VT-9 Commanding Officer Angermann presented Raballo with a fabric patch emblazoned with the Wings of Gold.
“Being the first female Italian navy jet pilot is an amazing feeling,” Raballo said. “My desire is to be the first one of many and I hope I’ll be an inspiration for many other women in all lines of work, not because I’m special, but for the exact opposite; I came from a small town, with no military background whatsoever and with willingness and hard work I was able to make my dream come true.”
After earning the Wings of Gold, Raballo will continue to postgraduate training at one of two U.S. Marine Corps fleet replacement squadrons to learn to operate either the F-35 Lightning II or the AV-8B Harrier.
Interestingly, Raballo’s achievement comes as the Italian Navy flagship, ITS Cavour (CVH 550), is sailing off the U.S. East Coast to carry out the sea trials with VX-23 F-35B Lightning II that will verify the compatibility between the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the 5th generation fighter aircraft and Italy’s aircraft carrier.