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‘I Didn’t See Anybody Like Myself as a Pilot’: New Pilot Encourages More Black Women to Take Up Aviation

Morgan Johnson can now add a private pilot to her list of titles. The 23-year-old graduated from Redtail Flight Academy in Tuskegee, Alabama, on Oct. 2. She said she gets butterflies each time she takes flight.

“Sometimes I’m in the air and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh! Somebody’s on the ground looking at a plane in the sky and it’s me flying it,’” said Johnson.

A graduate of Tuskegee University, the Cincinnati native says she caught the aviation bug in 2017, her junior year of college, after talking to a friend.

“So, I was looking for opportunities for me to have a career that was a little more outside of the box,” Johnson recalled. “I talked to a friend of mine who was inducted into the Red Tail Scholarship Foundation, and he told me that they were looking for women who were interested in becoming pilots and aviatrix. This was something I never heard of before, so I was extremely interested in figuring out what the program was about.”

After learning more information about the Redtail Flight Academy in Tuskegee, Alabama, Johnson landed a scholarship from the Red Tail Scholarship Foundation to learn how to fly. The Red Tail Scholarship Foundation (RTSF) provides funding, mentorship, and resources to minority students who are motivated to pursue careers in the aviation industry. Johnson is the first in her family to pursue aviation and says she hopes more Black women will learn to fly so that other women will be encouraged to soar.

“I just have never seen, personally, a Black woman pilot and I know that I’m just a regular Black girl,” she said.“I didn’t see myself for a while as a pilot because I didn’t see anybody like myself as a pilot. There weren’t any Black women. There weren’t really many women in general. There weren’t a lot of Black people.”

According to Sisters of the Skies, a nonprofit organization of Black women pilots, there are less than 150 black women pilots in the United States, and Black women pilots make up less than 1 percent of the total professional pilot career field.

Johnson says while it’s exciting to be a pilot, she admits the overall training experience was a bit overwhelming at first.

“I struggled with being intimidated by the airplane, by the information, by the other aviators around me and being one of the only women that was even around the majority of the time,” she said.

But she says instructors like Jared Savage helped to ease her fear. Savage is also a young pilot in his early 20s. He says as an instructor his plan is to put more people who look like him in the cockpit. 

“We’re a scholarship that’s being run by 20-, 21-, 22-, 23-year-olds,” Savage said. “So if we can do it, why can’t somebody else.”

Johnson and Savage both say their plan is also to build on the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black military aviators in the United States armed forces.

The Redtail Flight Academy is located at Moton Field, home of the famed WWII-era Tuskegee Airmen of the Army Air Forces. It was not until the “Tuskegee Experience” was established to train African-Americans to fly that Black pilots took flight in the service. According to the academy’s website, the school is named after the prestigious group of Tuskegee Airmen known as the “Red Tails,” the first African-Americans trained by the military to engage in combat operations.

While the private pilot license doesn’t allow Johnson to charge for flights, it does allow her to travel in style, and pilot a memorable trip with family and friends.

“Becoming a pilot has changed my life tremendously,” said Johnson. Those experiences on the plane can translate to life experiences as well. So, it just made me a more meticulous and refined and just a more alert person in general.”

To learn more about the red tail flight academy, go to redtailscholarshipfoundation.org

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