Destin native Lt. j.g. Danielle Francis Adams grew up in the world of aviation and has now earned her place in that profession, putting on her Wings of Gold to become one of the Navy’s newest helicopter pilots.

Adams earned her wings during a ceremony at Naval Air Station Whiting Field on March 23. She was winged as the 34,201th unrestricted naval aviator in the United States Navy. Joined onstage by her family and friends, she was pinned by her twin sister, Ali Hollis.

“I’m honored we were able to help each other through the last few years of training, and to finally be here for her today,” Hollis said, who is in medical school. “It’s once in a lifetime for her.”

Adams was born in Pensacola before moving to Destin. She attended Fort Walton Beach High School, graduating in 2011. She attended the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, earning a bachelor’s in athletic training in 2015. Adams was commissioned as an officer at the Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, in 2016.

Adams finds it hard to imagine living not surrounded by aviation, after growing up in the world’s busiest airspaces. But she wasn’t always set on becoming an aviator.

“I did not go to a recruiter with the intention of flying,” Adams said, who wasn’t sure how the Navy could use her degree. “I primarily wanted to serve, regardless of what job I did.”

Adams’ sense of duty is no surprise because her parents, both Destin residents, made a career in the Navy. Her mother, Anita Francis, served for 22 years, starting as an enlisted flight engineer. She retired as a Lieutenant Aviation Maintenance Officer working on C-130 Hercules airplanes. Her father, David Adams, served for 27 years in numerous airframes and retired as a qualified aircrew Aviation Master Chief.

“We tried to get both daughters to join, taking them every year of high school to summer camps at the Academy,” David said, whose final duty station was the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

“But they wanted nothing to do with it,” Francis added.

Adams needed to find her own way in, Francis said. She earned her degree and spent time as the athletic trainer for a professional rugby team before reaching out to a recruiter.

“We were both about floored,” Francis said. “But she finally did it when it was her decision, not because we wanted it.”

Once the chance to become an aviator was offered to Adams, she knew it was the right path for her.

“A lot of hard work goes into flight school, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a one-of-a-kind experience,” Adams said.

Adams, who passed through the halls of Training Squadron Two (VT-2) and Helicopter Training Squadron Eight (HT-8), appreciates that flight school was more than just the adrenaline rush of learning to fly.

“I learned a great deal about myself, especially what sort of leader I want to become,” she said. “We are given opportunities to grow individually, but working as a crew, especially in the helicopter community, is a key to success.”

Adams will next be moving to Norfolk, Virginia, to begin advanced training to fly the MH-53E Sea Dragon. She hopes to make a career in the Navy, putting in 20 years and looking forward to what opportunities present themselves along the way.