Black History: Special Delivery!!
You may be familiar with Bessie Coleman, who made aviation history as the first African American female licensed pilot in the U.S. in 1922. After Bessie Coleman, there have been a number of black female pilots who have also been aviation trailblazers. One such trailblazer, is Jill Brown-Hiltz (1950 – ), who became the first African American female airline pilot to work for a major airline in 1978.
A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Brown-Hiltz’s entire family actually took an interest in flying when she was 17. Her father owned a construction company and her mother was an art teacher in the Baltimore school system. The family bought its own plane and Brown-Hiltz would often fly her friends on what she referred to as, “Brown’s United Airlines”. Though the entire family took flying lessons; she was the first one to receive her pilot’s license. A graduate of the University of Maryland, she would go on to become an economics teacher, while continuing to fly and hone her skills. In 1974, she became the first African American female to be accepted into the U.S. Naval Pilot Training Program. She was discharged after only being in the program for 6 months.
After leaving the Navy, she continued to pursue employment as a pilot. She began working for Wheeler Airlines; the first black owned and operated airline in the U.S. Some of our Black Mail Readers may remember our previous post about Wheeler Airlines. Brown-Hiltz started off as a ticket counter with Wheeler Airlines. She would eventually work her way up to a pilot position; logging more than 800 flight hours there.
In 1978, Brown-Hiltz again made history again, at the age of 28, when she accepted a job with Texas International Airport, making her the first African American female to fly with a major U.S. commercial airline. Brown-Hiltz left the this job, after only one year and became a pilot for Zantop International Airlines, a cargo carrier with headquarters in Detroit, MI. She was employed with Zantop until 1985. In 1990, Brown-Hiltz sued United Airlines, alledging racial and sexual discrimination after she applied 3 times and was not hired. The case was initially decided in favor of United Airlines. Brown-Hiltz subsequently appealed; however, in 1997, the case was again decided in favor of United Airlines.
The number of African American Female pilots remains very low still; with African American females accounting for only .01% of commercial airline pilots. That equates to less than 50 African America Female commercial airline pilots in the U.S.