Tahirah Lamont Brown’s journey began in 1992, it would mark the first time she entered a cockpit. Twenty years later, she became FedEx’s first African American female pilot.
Brown became enamored with aviation in high school. She says she wanted to become a pilot because: “I enjoy traveling, meeting new people, and learning about different cultures. Aviation matched my personality. It was an epiphany for me. I decided this is what I want to do, and God put people in my path along the way that helped me achieve my goal.”
As with any major goal or aspiration, there were challenges. Brown didn’t know how she would pay for flight school and college. She ended up getting two jobs to finance both endeavors. She also enlisted the help of family and friends, “I also wrote my family a letter asking them for support. I promised that if they would help me now, I would pay them back when I had the money, and they helped me.”
Brown majored in aviation business management in college. Then she received a sweet deal; her professor Ray Marshall offered her free flight instruction if she would babysit his child and provide the funds for fuel. Talk about kismet. Then she met Bill Norwood, the first African American pilot at United Airlines; he introduced her to OBAP (the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals).
Subsequently, she was able to obtain a private pilot’s license and join the Professional Pilot Development program where she received flight instructor training. She then joined Great Lakes Airlines, now known as United Express as a pilot.
Brown has been a member of OBAP since 1992. OBAP’s mission is to provide mentorship and support to minorities who’d like to delve into aviation.
Though she’s achieved many milestones, as she recalls the feeling she received during her first flight, “I still remember it vividly as it was exhilarating. I was twenty years old. My first flight was in a Cessna 172, a four-seat single engine prop plane. My instructor in college was with me, along with my supportive, yet reluctant father in the backseat. We took off out of Long Island and flew to Greenwich, Connecticut. I was on top of the world. I could not believe that my view was the sky,” “We flew around as I tried to maintain wing level. I looked back at my dad and he was giving me the thumbs up, but I could tell he was getting a little queasy. I said: ‘you’re doubting me, right?’ When we landed I felt like a child that was taking her first step–like the world had no limits. My father told me this was what I was meant to do. All his doubts were alleviated at that moment and going forward he only asked how he could help me.”
Brown still thinks there are many more barriers to be broken in aviation for African Americans. She expresses: “While I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot, I will not feel like I’ve made it until I see more minorities in the industry. When I speak at conferences, I help provide information about FedEx and encourage minorities to apply. However, I have not seen a significant change.”
Apart from being a pilot, Brown is also a Line Check Airman. Her dual role allows her to be an evaluator and instructor. The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) also provides training and guidelines to ensure FedEx pilots are trained efficiently and adhere to top-notch certification.
Her advice to aspiring women pilots? “I tell them my life story, and that the end result and sacrifices are going to be worth it. You have to make sacrifices, and the road is going to be hard. I let them know that I am here to support them, to give them advice and to listen to them because that was important to me. But, they will have to find it within themselves to know that it is achievable,” “I also tell young people to not allow negative attitudes to affect you. This has been true for me. We can be our biggest barriers at times. We have to overcome our own personal barriers to achieve our goals.”
Heed the words of the one whose footsteps you’d wish to follow.