Marines put spotlight on female F/A-18 pilot from Maryland

Capt. Meleah Martin, a pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 323, smiles from the cockpit of an F/A-18C Hornet at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., on May 2, 2020.


By GREG SWATEK | The Frederick News-Post, Md. | Published: July 4, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Ever the adrenaline junkie, Meleah Martin now flies military fighter jets in excess of 1,000 miles per hour, nearly twice the speed of sound.

That's not something she could have even imagined in 2009, when she left her childhood home in Walkersville to continue her lacrosse career at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Martin's unforeseeable rise through the military ranks – from student and college lacrosse player to Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet pilot – was recently featured on the official website of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Under the headline "You're Only as Good as Your Last Flight," Martin shares with First Lt. Frederick Walker, the author of the online story, her passion for what she presently does as a pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323.

"As soon as I started flying, I knew 100 percent that's where I wanted to be," Martin said in the story. "There's nothing like it! When I was flying fixed wing T-6 trainer [single-engine plane], all I could think about was going faster and still flying in formation."

Martin's need for speed was never really a secret.

Running late once for a family function, she received a speeding ticket while driving her grandfather's pick-up truck.

Ron Manges swore up and down that truck could not exceed 80 miles per hour. So, when he learned his granddaughter was clocked for going 85 in an effort to make up time, he dryly offered, "Well, that's probably as fast as that truck has ever gone."

However, Martin's family and friends never imagined her competitive, adventurous nature would manifest itself in this way. She never talked about serving in the military growing up.

"The irony of all this is she was recruited to play lacrosse at the Naval Academy," her grandmother, Candis Manges, said. "But, in her entire four years there, she probably never played the equivalent of a full game. On Senior Night, she never played.

"That was a very tough thing for Meleah. She is very competitive."

So, she was forced to channel that drive in other ways.

Martin complained that Naval obstacle courses were set up in a less-challenging way for females. She once completed one in less than two minutes, well ahead of female colleagues, "because she didn't want any of the guys to think she was a wuss," Candis Manges said.

And once Martin learned that only a quarter of her graduating class could commission as Marine officers and that only a small number of them would become pilots, she found her next challenge, according to the website article.

"As I learned more about [the Marines], I fell in love with the idea, and I fought for it," Martin told the website. "Being a pilot sounded really fun. So, I fought for that, too."

Martin is presently stationed aboard an aircraft carrier in the western Pacific, not far from Guam.

Her margin of error in the air and on take-offs and landings remains razor thin. But that's just the way she likes it.

"Aviation can beat you up day in and day out," she told the website. "But you still keep coming back for more because you love it. It's one of the most mentally taxing and physically challenging things that I have ever done in my life. That's why I love it."


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Capt. Meleah Martin, a pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 323, embarks an F/A-18C Hornet at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., on May 2, 2020.