Naval Aviator, Test Pilot, Military Professional, Speaker, and President of SPARTA

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Commander Emily “Hawking” Shilling (She/Her), based in Washington DC, is a distinguished Naval Aviator, Test Pilot, and Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer. She is also the Navy’s most senior openly transgender line officer and aviator. An alumna of the University of Colorado, her distinguished career with the US Navy includes two Aircraft Carrier deployments, 60 combat missions, over 1700 flight hours, and the piloting of 21 different aircraft types.

She is currently stationed at Pax River Naval Airstation where she leads the development and acquisition of our Navy’s most advanced weapon systems. Having played pivotal roles in EA-18G advanced development, the Next Generation Air Dominance Analysis of Alternatives (FA-XX), and the Next Generation Naval Mission Planning Systems (Continuum) she is currently the Deputy Program Manager for the US Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation Mission Control System in support of MQ-25 and the airwing of the future.

In 2023, she achieved a historic milestone as the first transgender individual to regain Naval Flight Clearance for tactical jets post-transition. An active advocate, she is President of SPARTA, supporting trans-inclusive military service, and serves on the board of Out & Equal, a leading LGBTQ+ advocacy non-profit. Her accolades include the 2022 O&E Corporate Advocate of the Year award, inclusion in the 2023 Top 100 LGBTQ+ Executive Role Models List and the 2024 Curve Power List, and the Daedalian Award for Superior Airmanship During an Emergency for saving her EA-6B Prowler and crew.


Emily “Hawking” Shilling is a Commander (CDR) in the United States Navy (USN), currently serving as an Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer, with NAVAIR in the Washington DC area. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from the University of Colorado in 2005. Subsequently joining the Navy, she was winged in 2007 as a Naval Aviator.  She went on to fly the EA-6B Prowler, EA-18G and F-18E/F. Operating off the USS Abraham Lincoln she conducted sixty (60) combat missions in support of operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. For her actions she was awarded three Air Medals and the Order of Daedalians Distinguished Airmanship Award for superior airmanship during an emergency. Subsequently selected as a Test Pilot Candidate, she was ordered to the United States Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS) in Patuxent River Maryland.

CDR Shilling graduated with honors from USNTPS (Class 147) and received her Master of Systems Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 2015. She then served as an Electronic Attack Project Officer with Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) where she conducted high risk test flights in support of the USN’s most advanced air combat systems to include the cutting-edge electromagnetic aircraft launch and recovery systems being installed in the latest generation of US Aircraft Carriers. Following the success of this tour she was selected as an Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer (AEDO) where she is now a Military Deputy Program Manager charged with developing and acquiring our nation’s next line of offensive and defensive air systems.

Her major efforts as a Systems Engineer have included engineering efforts on the Kepler Interplanetary Space Telescope, Analysis of Alternatives User Lead for the Next Generation Air Dominance Naval Fighter, Deputy Program Manager for Next Generation Naval Mission Planning Systems (Continuum), Deputy Program Manager for Unmanned Carrier Aviation Mission Control System, and program lead for various aspects of the forefront of Naval Aviation.

CDR Shilling is the senior trans-identifying Naval Aviator and Line Officer in the United States Navy. Transitioning in 2019 during a ban on trans-inclusive service, she has led the charge in normalizing that trans-identifying sailors, airmen, soldiers, marines, and guardians cannot only serve but thrive in their service. She was critical in challenging military assumptions and became the first transgender individual to regain her Naval Flight Clearance to fly high-performance tactical jets post-transition in Feb 2023. She continues to work to foster an inclusive environment for all warriors, advocate for trans excellence, and mentor all those who deserve to see themselves in their heroes.

She is currently the senior, actively serving, trans-identifying line officer in the USN and President of SPARTA, an organization that advocates and educates about transgender military service and is dedicated to the support and professional development of over 2000 transgender service members. Finally, she serves on the board of directors for Out & Equal (Workplace advocates) beginning in 2023.

Civilian Awards and Recognition

Military Awards

  • 2015 – United States Naval Test Pilot School Best Development Test Thesis
  • 1 x Meritorious Service Medal
  • 3 x Air Medal (60 Combat Missions, Afghanistan / Iraq)
  • 2 x Navy Commendation Medal
  • 3 x Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal

Work Experience

  • 2023 – Unmanned Carrier Aviation (PMA-268)
    • Deputy Program Manager
    • Unmanned Carrier Aviation Mission Control System
  • 2020 – Naval Mission Planning and Strike Systems (PMA-281)
    • Deputy Program Manager
    • Next-Generation Mission Planning Systems
  • 2017 – Mission Engineering and Design (4.0M NAVAIR)
    • Project Manager, Next Generation Air Defense (NGAD)
  • 2015 – Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) –
    • EA-6B / EA-18G Test Pilot and Project Officer
  • 2014 – The United States Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS) – Fixed Wing Student
  • 2012 – Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) – MS Systems Engineering
  • 2009 – Electronic Attack Squadron One Three One (VAQ-131) – Pilot / Tactics Department Head
  • 2008 – Electronic Attack Squadron One Two Nine (VAQ-129) – Student
  • 2007 – United States Navy – Student Naval Aviator
  • 2005 – Ball Aerospace – Associate Engineer, Kepler Space Telescope
  • 2001 – Colorado Space Grant Consortium – Lead Mechanical Engineering
  • 1999 – Walmart – Sales Associate


  • Bachelor’s Degree – (2005)
    • University of Colorado, Boulder
    • Aerospace Engineering Sciences
  • Master’s Degree – (2014)
    • Naval Postgraduate School
    • Systems Engineering
  • Certified Naval Test Pilot – (2015)
    • United States Naval Test Pilot School
  • Professional Certification, Model-Based Systems Engineering (2017)
    • MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Flight Experience

  • HOURS (Total/PIC): 1714.0 / 1567.7
  • COMBAT (Hours/Missions): 350.9 / 60
  • ARRESTED LANDINGS: 242 (137 Day / 105 Night)

Platform (Hours):

  • EA-6B (1072.4)
  • FA/EA-18E/F/G (158.2)
  • T-45C (177.8)
  • T-38C (46.8)
  • 19 Others (261.3)
  • EA-6B NATOPS Instructor / Crew Resource Management Facilitator (NOV 2011, NOV 2015)
  • PWTP Level III EA-6B Mission Commander / Section Lead Pilot (SEP 2011)
  • Functional Check Flight Crewmember (JUN 2011)
  • Surface to Air Counter Tactics Instructor (OCT 2011)
  • Squadron Landing Signal Officer (2011)

Speeches & Panel Recordings

  1. NAVAIR TDOR 2023: Speaker for the dead
  2. DoD Pride Speech 2023: Thirty-One
  3. AiAA SciTech 2023 Women at SciTech Panel

In The News

  1. Curve Power List: 50 LGBTQ+ Women and Nonbinary Trailblazers
  2. Rotor Review Winter 2024 #163 by Naval Helicopter Association, Inc – Issuu
  3. Winning with inclusion and respect: First transgender naval aviator regains flight status
  4. Pentagon Pride Month Speech Highlights Transgender Suicides in US Military
  5. Pentagon officials defend diversity and inclusion at Pride Month event
  6. AiAA Women at SciTech Panel: Leadership, Innovation, and Intersectionality (Video)
  7. Navy commander receives top award for LGBTQ+ advocacy – The Southern Maryland Chronicle commander receives top award for LGBTQ+ advocacy > United States Navy > News-Stories
  8. Navy commander receives top award for LGBTQ+ advocacy | NAVAIR
  9. 2022 Workplace Summit LGBTQ+ Corporate Advocate of the Year Outie Award | Out & Equal (outandequal.org)
  10. Emily Shilling (spartapride.org)
  11. Emily “Hawking” Shilling joins SPARTA Board as Membership Director (spartapride.org)
  12. With ban lifted, transgender service members free to figure out what comes next (nbcnews.com)
  13. Revealed: the trans military members living in fear under Trump’s ban | Transgender | The Guardian
  14. Lancer awarded Order of the Daedalians’ (kitsapsun.com)

Unofficial Photos

Official Photos – Only for use when representing the DoD / USN