In 1978, Jill E. Brown-Hiltz was hired as a pilot for Texas International Airlines, making her the first African American woman pilot at a major airline. But it didn’t always look like her dreams would come true. Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, she always wanted to fly more than anything else but she ended up graduating with a degree in Home Economics and began teaching.
In 1974, however, Brown enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where she was admitted into the Navy’s flight training program. She was the first African American woman in the program but felt that the Navy wasn’t for her. After six months, she was honorably discharged.
Her next job was at Wheeler Airlines, where she worked her way up from a ticket counter clerk to pilot, logging enough hours as a pilot to quality for a job at a major airline.
Texas International Airlines (TIA) later hired Brown as a pilot when she was just 28-years old, and she made history. However, because she believed that she was only hired because of her race, she decided to only stay with the airline for a year.
Paving the way
It’s estimated that African American women only make up about 0.01% of all commercial pilots in the country. Brown was definitely a pioneer in a field that is still dominated by white men. Because of her early accomplishments, Brown continues to inspire many other Black and minority women who aspire to be pilots as well.
But her success has not always been easy. For example, in 1990, Brown sued United Airlines for discrimination because she applied three times and was never hired. The lawsuit was unsuccessful, but it opened the doors for her to advocate for others who are victims of discrimination in the airline industry.