From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

Valerie Delaney '09

Date of birth: May 14, 1986

Date of death: March 11, 2013

Age: 26

Lucky Bag

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Valerie Cappelaere Delaney 2009, from
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From Wings for Val:

Navy Lieutenant Valerie Cappelaere Delaney, 26, of Anacortes, WA, and Ellicott City, MD, perished on March 11, 2013, when the Navy jet she was piloting crashed in Eastern Washington State during a training mission.  She served as an EA-6B Prowler pilot in Electronic Attack Squadron 129 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington.  Her military achievements include the National Defense and Global War on Terrorism Service Medals, and she was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant.

Born Valerie Alice Cappelaere on May 14, 1986, she was the second of three daughters of Doreen and Patrice Cappelaere of Ellicott City, MD. Valerie attended public schools in Howard County, graduating from Centennial High School with high honors in 2004, and lettering in soccer and lacrosse.

Proudly nominated by Congressman Elijah Cummings, Valerie earned an appointment to the United States Naval Academy’s Class of 2009, arriving at Annapolis as a member of 17th Company, and taking on the difficult major of Aerospace Engineering.  She was instrumental in Navy Women’s Lacrosse rising from a club sport to an NCAA Division I competitive team.  Her love for lacrosse and her teammates resulted in deep friendships, and she inspired and mentored many of her teammates to pursue aviation with her same fearlessness and determination.

Upon graduation in May 2009, she was selected to be a Naval Aviator, and to pursue her dream of becoming a pilot.  Initially training at NAS Pensacola, FL, she moved to VT-28 at NAS Corpus Christi, TX where she flew the T-34C for primary flight training.  Valerie continued training at NAS Meridian, MS, flying the T-45 on the road to becoming a jet pilot.  She earned her Wings of Gold in February 2012, and was assigned to VAQ-129 of NAS Whidbey Island.

Valerie met her future husband, fellow USNA classmate and native Marylander Sean Delaney, while training in Singapore and Australia after Plebe year.  They were married on February 18, 2012 at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis; days after Valerie qualified her carrier landings.  They made their home in Anacortes, WA, where they enjoyed mountain biking, snowboarding, and hunting together.

Valerie will always be remembered as a person of great integrity, strong faith, and an unyielding compassion for all those she met.  Her legacy will be an inspiration to future aviators and all women.  She is survived by her husband Sean, parents Doreen and Patrice, sisters Caroline and Allison, and grandmothers Carolyn and Raymonde.


Wings for Val Foundation was founded in 2015 in memory of LT Cappelaere Delaney.

Mission: To promote and support women in all fields, especially aviation, and to inspire future generations of female leaders.
Vision: Women will become empowered leaders who reach forward for mentorship, who reach back to support and inspire those behind them, and who approach any obstacle with the mindset to “ADAPT AND OVERCOME.”
Core Values: Courage, Integrity, Mentorship, Service, Leadership


From the Naval Academy Alumni Association's "In Memoriam" page:

Valerie approached everything in life with her steadfast faith in God, her brilliant inner beauty and wisdom, and her Adapt and Overcome attitude! Doreen Cappelaere, mother

Allison Cappelaere Righter, her younger sister, remembered Val in this TEDx talk on September 9th, 2017.


From the November 2016 edition of Shipmate:


The night before the funeral of Lieutenant Valerie Cappelaere Delaney ’09, USN, the first wings arrived. The hundreds of brass pins spaced with military precision along the length of dark green parachute straps were sent by other female naval aviators as a sign of respect for the 26-year-old Naval Academy graduate who died when her plane crashed on 11 March 2013 in Spokane, WA.

The wings—which were collected by Delaney’s close friends—have inspired a foundation created by her parents to help other women fly. "Our goal is to carry on Val’s legacy," said Doreen Cappelaere, Delaney’s mother. "She reached out to those ahead of her for mentorship, and she reached back to those behind her to help."

Wings for Val provides scholarships to young women pursuing careers in aviation and has awarded three since its inception in 2014. The group held its second fundraiser in September at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, with astronaut Lieutenant Colonel Nicole Mann ’99, USMC, as a featured speaker.

From the Capital Gazette on September 6, 2016:

The first wings arrived the night before Valerie Cappelaere Delaney's funeral, gold pins spaced with military precision along the length of dark-green parachute straps.

The pins, hundreds of them, were sent by other female naval aviators — junior officers to admirals — as a sign of respect for the 26-year-old Naval Academy graduate from Howard County who had relentlessly pursued her own wings.

Three years after Cappelaere Delaney's EA-6B Prowler jet crashed during a training exercise in Eastern Washington, the wings have inspired a foundation created by her parents to help other women to fly.

Wings for Val distributes scholarships to young women pursuing careers in aviation.

"Our goal is to carry on Val's legacy," said Doreen Cappelaere, her mother. "She reached out to those ahead of her for mentorship, and she reached back to those behind her to help."

Women make up less than 9 percent of the Navy's roughly 13,000 aviators, according to a spokeswoman. Only about 4 percent of pilots holding airline transport certificates are women, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

There were just over 39,000 female civilian pilots in 2015, including students, private pilots and commercial pilots — up from about 36,000 in 2006.

There are many reasons for the small number of female pilots, analysts say. One major factor: Airlines historically have hired from the military. And the Navy opened combat missions to women only relatively recently, in 1993.

Peggy Chabrian, president of the Ohio-based Women in Aviation International, said her group is working with schools and extracurricular organizations to challenge long-held assumptions about the industry. As part of the effort, the nonprofit helps to identify applicants for groups across the country, including Wings for Val.

"Even today, you'll find high school counselors or teachers where aviation [for girls] doesn't come to mind right away," Chabrian said.

The Cappelaere family is hoping to chip away at one of the impediments: cost. The group has awarded scholarships to three women since its inception in 2014.

The group is set to hold its second fundraiser on Saturday at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Nicole Mann, a NASA astronaut, Naval Academy graduate and Marine lieutenant colonel, is scheduled to speak.

Wings for Val has awarded relatively small scholarships, a few thousand dollars each. But recipients said their awards have made a difference both financially and psychologically. Having support for their effort to break into a field with few female role models, they said, is beneficial.

"It helps a ton," said Ashley Taylor, a smoke jumper for the U.S. Forest Service who wants to fly the planes she now parachutes out of. "It really just solidifies that I'll be able to do it."

Taylor, who received a scholarship from the group last year, jumps ahead of wildfires, removes the brush that fuels the flames, and then hikes back out. She is often the only woman in her crew.

The 30-year-old Idaho woman, who has a business degree from the University of Montana, loves the job, but is cognizant of the possibility of a future injury.

If jumping to the ground became impossible, becoming a pilot would allow her to fight fires from the air. She has her private pilot's license and will begin work this fall on her instrument rating so she can fly in adverse weather.

"I just decided that it would be a really cool backup plan," she said. "I just started trying to find a way to stay in the world that I love."

Cappelaere Delaney was inspired to fly by conversations with her grandfather, a retired Air Force pilot. Her family and friends said she pursued her goal with passion, and sometimes against the odds.

She didn't make it into the Navy Academy after graduating from Centennial High School in 2004, despite good grades. Rather than giving up and going to another school, she took a year of preparatory studies in Massachusetts and won a place in Annapolis the following year.

She graduated from the academy in 2009 with a degree in aeronautical engineering, was commissioned an ensign in the Navy, and earned promotion to lieutenant junior grade.

She served with the Electronic Attack Squadron VAQ-129, a training group based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington. The EA-6B Prowler, designed by Northrop Grumman, is used primarily for jamming enemy radar and radio communications.

She married Sean Delaney, a fellow Maryland native, academy graduate and Navy pilot, in 2012.

Her plane crashed on March 11, 2013, in a field about 40 miles west of Spokane, Wash., killing all three crew members. A Navy investigation found the most likely cause was pilot error.

The investigators found the instructor evaluating the flight on board lacked the hours required to safely monitor the low-level maneuvers Cappelaere Delaney was attempting.

Her friends started collecting the wings, and gave the initial set to Doreen and Patrice Cappelaere the night before her funeral. They are now on display at the Women's Memorial at Arlington, where Cappelaere Delaney is buried.

Doreen Cappelaere said women continue to add wings to the exhibit.

Chelsea Atwater was the first to receive a scholarship from the group. The 30-year-old Arizona woman spent years as a Grand Canyon river guide before deciding she wanted to get out of rafts and into helicopters.

Atwater worked at her license for five years, and finished her training last month. She hopes to pilot medevac flights.

"I don't have a whole lot of mentors, or people who have done this before," said Atwater. "Just having this community encouraging more people to get involved is important."

From a guest column in the Capital Gazette on August 26, 2016:

Our daughter, Valerie Cappelaere Delaney, achieved her dream of becoming a Navy fighter pilot and earned her Wings for Gold in February 2012. A pilot's wings represent years of hard work and are a testament to the dedication, skill and focus it takes to fly among the ranks of military aviators.

Just a year later, on March 11, 2013, Valerie's life was cut short when the EA-6B Prowler jet she was piloting crashed in a field near Spokane, Washington, during one of her last training flights prior to deployment. We were devastated, but soon realized that Valerie's wings and her legacy would take flight in ways we could have never imagined.

At her funeral, over 200 female military aviator wings from all over the world were collected and presented to our family in honor of Valerie's service and sacrifice and in celebration of the collective strength and sisterhood of all female aviators. This impressive collection is now on display as part of a Wings for Val exhibit at the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and became the inspiration for us to start the Wings for Val Foundation.

More sets of wings will be added to the collection on Sept. 10 during our second annual event, including a set from our keynote speaker, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col Nicole Mann, a naval aviator, F/A-18 Hornet test pilot and NASA astronaut.

The middle one of our three daughters, Valerie committed to serving our country in the footsteps of her grandfather and great-uncles and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering in 2009 from the Naval Academy, where she also minored in French, played Division 1 lacrosse and sang in a cappella group.

As she looked ahead toward achieving her wings, she always looked behind for opportunities to take others under her wing as a friend and mentor. In her squadron, Valerie earned the call sign "Mom," because she was always at the service of others. She also fearlessly challenged herself in every way and approached any obstacle she faced with the motto "Adapt and Overcome."

We embraced this motto as we sought to overcome our tremendous personal loss. The Travis Manion Foundation, or TMF, was the first to offer us hope in rebuilding our lives in memory of Val and in service of others. It enlisted us as ambassadors in its "Character Does Matter" program to tell Val's story and inspire the next generation of young leaders.

We also went on a TMF survivor expedition to Guatemala in 2015 to build a small house for an impoverished family in the mountains of San Raymundo. This was the beginning of a new life and a new energy to start the Wings for Val Foundation under the leadership of our youngest daughter, Allison Righter.

The foundation's mission is to support and promote women in all fields, especially in the military and in aviation, and to inspire future generations of female leaders.

We have changed the lives of three young women pursuing their private pilot's licenses by providing them scholarships for flight school. We support the Navy women's lacrosse team with a special No. 6 award and host the yearly alumni weekend. We are also involved with the Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation at Whitetail Ski Resort, which provides free skiing and lessons to wounded warriors and their families.

These partner organizations will be joining us on Sept. 10 [2016] at the Women's Memorial for our transformational program. The following day, Team Wings for Val will be participating in the Annapolis 9/11 Heroes 5k Run/Walk, with the Navy women's lacrosse team leading the way, followed by teams of aspiring young players and even service dogs from Warrior Canine Connection.

We hope that you will consider helping us grow our mission and participating in our upcoming events. Details can be found at Pat and Doreen Cappelaere

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Class of 2009

Valerie is one of 2 members of the Class of 2009 on Virtual Memorial Hall.