In Black History Month, Brenda E. Robinson deserves our lens. She is the first African-American female pilot in U.S. Navy history.
She is the 59th woman to enter the Navy’s training program, became the 42nd to earn her wings, and the first black woman to earn Wings of Gold. She is an inductee of the International Pioneer Hall of Fame.
Born in 1956 to Susan and Edward Robinson, Robinson grew in North Wales, Pennsylvania, eventually studying aeronautics at Dowling College in Oakdale, New York. She emerged as the first black woman in Dowling’s history to graduate with a degree in Aeronautics.
She soon earned her private pilot certificate at MacArthur Airport in Islip, New York.
In 1977, she was one of 10 women selected nationwide to attend the Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida. It launched her on a path to become a naval aviator. This was just one year after women were authorized to attend the Naval Academy.
“At the time they were selecting 10 women a year out of the nation and I was one of those 10,” she said.
Robinson became the first African American female graduate from Aviation Officer Candidate School. She earned her wings of gold on June 6, 1980, at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, according to Women In Aviation International.
Robinson later amassed 115 carrier landings while transporting mail, cargo, and passengers in the C 1A (COD) Carrier Onboard Delivery.
In flying seven types of aircraft, she touched the skies from the East Coast to Guam, Germany, the Middle East, and Italy.
In 1992, Robinson transitioned to the Naval Reserves and was hired by American Airlines. She was among the first African-American female pilots at American Airlines and flew with them for 17 years aboard Boeing 727, 757, and 767 aircraft.
She published Success is an Attitude: Goal Achievement for a Lifetime in 1995. She undertook speaking tours as well, sharing her experiences. The woman who attained the rank of lieutenant commander as a Navy Pilot teaches young adults of all backgrounds all things aviation in Charlotte through her Aviation Camps of the Carolinas.
“The world is as they see it and it’s very finite until you press the button that gives them excitement,” she said.