Black Women Airline Pilots


  Aviation History  




Black Women Airline Pilots
Patrice Clark-Washington

The First Black Female To Become A Captain For A Commercial Airline. 


First officer Patrice Clarke never intended to write history. A UPS pilot, she never set out to be one of the first Black females to graduate from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida with an aeronautical degree. Nor did she plan to be the only female professional pilot working; in her native country of the Bahamas. Ms. Clarke only wanted to be a pilot. "I first became interested in aviation while participating in career week activities at my high school in Nassau, Bahamas. My first thought was to become a flight attendant. Then I decided I wanted to fly planes," she said in the Organization of Black Airline Pilots newsletter.

"When I told my friends that I wanted to become a pilot, they laughed at me. Rut my mother taught me that there was no limit to what I could become." A native of Nassau, Clarke began her career at Trans Island Airways. a small charter airline. Later, she was hired by Bahamasair, and in 1988 began work as a pilot for UPS. Ms. Clarke, one of only 11 African-American female commercial pilots in the U.S. airline industry, was recently promoted to captain with United Parcel Service. This advancement marks the first time an African American female has become a captain for a major airline. She and her husband, Ray who is a pilot for American Airlines are the only African American couple whom both fly for a major commercial carrier.

Jill E. Brown Hiltz

Jill Elaine Brown received her wings in 1978 as the first African American female pilot to fly for a major U.S. commercial airline. Ms. Brown, then 28, was one of six women to graduate in a class of 38 pilots from then Texas International Airline's training program. Her interest in aviation, however, like those Black female pioneers before her, began in her formative years. Brown began flying at the age of 17 when she and her parents Gilbert and Elaine Brown, undertook the project as a hobby. "Daddy was tired of getting speeding tickets," she told Ebony magazine in a 1975 interview. "And one day, while they were driving past a small airport they saw a plane landing, Daddy decided that was for us. 

She soloed in a Piper J-3 Cub and later the family acquired its own plane, a single-engine Piper Cherokee 180D for weekends and vacations. They dubbed it the "Little Golden Hawk". "We called ourselves Brown's United Airlines," she said. "I used to ask if I could use the plane like other kids asked for the family car." A graduate of the University of Maryland with a Home Economics degree, Brown took a teaching job in Massachusetts. However, feeling uninspired, she would later apply to the U.S. Navy for officer's training. After six months, Brown and the Navy parted ways, according to her inability to "just keep quiet and take orders."    (See Jill E. BROWN-HILTZ vs. UNITED AIRLINES, INC)

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