1. Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman was born in 1892 to a family of sharecroppers in Oklahoma. With a love for aviation, she wanted to become a pilot. At the time, U.S. aviation schools denied her admission, forcing Bessie to travel to France to obtain an international pilot license, which she successfully achieved in 1921. A year later, she returned to the United States to become the first black woman to obtain a U.S. pilot license. She flew at air shows and entertained the masses as a stunt pilot. Bessie vowed to keep fighting discrimination all her life, and according to sources close to her, she only wanted to perform her flying before mixed audiences. Bessie is known for her quote: “The air is the only place free from prejudices.” Bessie died at the age of 34 in a tragic accident.
2. Dorothy Vaughan
Dorothy Vaughan (1910-2008) was the first black woman to hold a manager position at NACA. She was a well-respected mathematician and led the segregated unit of West Area Computing from 1949-1958. When NACA transitioned into NASA, and segregated units were abolished, she took up learning FORTRAN and became an expert, and in doing so, contributing to many NASA programs. One such program was the Scout Launch Vehicle Program, which succeeded in bringing small satellites into low earth orbit.
3. Sherrexcia Alexis Rolle
Sherrexcia Alexis Rolle, known as ‘Rexy’ Rolle, is the Vice President of Operations and a member of the General Counsel at Western Air, a black-owned airline. Based in the Bahamas and founded by her parents, Rexy has taken up an executive role and led the expansion of the privately-owned business. Albeit the success of Western Air, she stipulates her continued fight against gender and race discrimination in the predominantly white and male aviation industry. In interviews, Rexy has explained a firm belief that her business meetings should not turn beyond the level of business, and if she senses that they do, she is prepared to shut down those meetings on the spot. Her confidence and persistence in keeping discrimination separate from business has kept her parent’s dream of owning their private airline alive.
4. Sierra Grimes
A graduate of Howard University, Grimes claims she stumbled into business aviation by accident. After graduating from Howard, she applied for a job at NBAA through a temp agency and got hired for a six-month contract. At the end of her six-month gig, NBAA offered her a full-time job.
Grimes has been with NBAA for six years now and has become a champion for underrepresented groups in business aviation. She launched the YoPro program at NBAA to help develop and recruit the next generation of aviation professionals. Sierra says the idea for the program came to her after attending years of NBAA events.
5. Angel Hughes
Angel Hughes fell in love with space the first time she heard about it in her sixth-grade class.
“Initially, I wanted to be an astronaut; more specifically the pilot of the space shuttle,” she says.
She held on to that dream and when she graduated high school, she enrolled in Jacksonville University’s aviation program. However, when Angel graduated from Jacksonville University with a commercial pilot’s license, airline pilot jobs were scarce. So, she joined the Coast Guard and spent 11 years as a Coast Guard aviator.
Now she’s back in the civilian world in a coveted position as a 757/767 First Officer for UPS, and she loves her job more than ever.
She’s also giving back to the community through Sisters of the Skies, a non-profit organization that offers scholarships and mentorships for young Black women pursuing aviation careers.