First Black Woman To Fly US Air Force Makes Final Flight After 43 Years Of Breaking Barriers

First Black Woman To Fly US Air Force Makes Final Flight After 43 Years Of Breaking Barriers

  • Captain Theresa Claiborne made history as the first Black woman to fly in the US Air Force at age 22
  • After 43 years in the skies, she recently retired in an emotional ceremony with a water canon salute
  • The emotional aviation enthusiast disclosed that she would miss the stares from children who were wowed by her pilot uniform

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Captain Theresa Claiborne boasts an illustrious 43-year career of flying planes, both military and commercial.

Theresa Claiborne
First Black Woman To Fly US Air Force Makes Final Flight After 43 Years of Breaking Barriers
Source: UGC

However, she retired from active flying on May 23 when she landed the aircraft at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

How was Claiborne's last flight?

CNN Travel reports that onboard the final flight from Lisbon, Portugal, were Claiborne's friends and family.

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“I’ve had a great career, and it’s time for me to park the brakes for the final time on a big aeroplane,” she said amid tears.

Claiborne disclosed that she is emotional as much as she looks forward to closing one chapter and starting another.

One of the things she will miss the most is the stares from children who often marvel at her in her pilot uniform.

“After this, walking through the airport, I won’t have a uniform on. People will just look at me like I’m just a passenger like everyone else," she noted.

How did Claiborne develop interest in flying?

Becoming a pilot was something Claiborne never imagined for herself as a young girl even though she took her first flight at age seven.

“My father was military, so she grew up really all over the world. I’d been on big aeroplanes before but never dreamt of flying one,” she recalled.

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Everything changed when Claiborne joined the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) and was allowed to fly in a twin-engine jet trainer, the T-37.

Once she got that first taste of being in the air and being in command of the aeroplane, the then-20-year-old knew she wanted to be a pilot.

Claiborne became first Black woman in the US Air Force

She registered for a six month undergraduate course from the California State University in Sacramento and began pilot training.

In 1981, Claiborne was commissioned as a second lieutenant and made history as the first Black woman to fly in the US Air Force the following year.

“I did not know until a few weeks before I graduated that that was the case,” she says, adding that she was only 22 at the time.

Since then, it has been over four decades of breaking down barrier after barrier along the way.

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Claiborne switched to commercial flying

Claiborne also became the first Black woman to serve as a command pilot and instructor for the KC-135, a mid-air refuelling jet.

After several years in the US Air Force, she made the switch and became a United Airlines captain.

This was against the backdrop of her being 5 feet, 2 inches, two inches shorter than the height required to fly commercial aircraft at the time.

Although she is now retired, she hopes to inspire and impart knowledge to young people, particularly young Black women.

Was Claiborne given water cannon salute?

Claiborne received the water cannon salute when she landed the United Airlines 787 Dreamliner in Newark.

The mark of respect sees two fire engines use their water cannons to create a huge arc over an aircraft.

“That’s something that retiring people look forward to. It’s pretty special,” she said.

Claiborne has spent her entire commercial flying career at United Airlines, a feat she sees as a blessing.

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African father and son both served as pilots on same flight before retirement reported that Peter Maranga has served as a commercial pilot at Kenya Airways from 1989 and he flew his last flight last week before he retired.

He started loving aeroplanes when he was about four years old and was attracted to a small plane owned by a farmer in his village.

Before retirement flight, Maranga has been flying with his son Emmanuel who is a First Officer on the B787 fleet.


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