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 FedEx’s First African-American Female Pilot Takes on Dual Role

After making the decision in high school to become a pilot, FedEx Airbus Captain and Line Check Airman Tahirah Lamont Brown has never looked back.
In fact, her career has taken flight through the year, eventually making history in 2002 as the first African-American woman to be hired by the Memphis, TN-headquartered international shipping company.
In an interview that ran on FedEx’s blog earlier this year, about.van.fedex.com/blog/earning-her-wings, Brown relays her story and shares how hard work, creativity, determination and mentors helped her build her “office in the sky.”
She also discusses the fateful and fortuitous meetings that led her to where she is now.
“I taught as a flight instructor for two years, later joining Great Lakes Airlines (United Express) as a pilot. While attending Women in Aviation and OBAP (Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals) conferences I’d often speak with FedEx reps, including pilot recruiter Beverly Hyter,” remembers Brown, who’s been an active member of Westchester, IL-based OBAP since 1992. OBAP provides a means of mentorship and encouragement, to help minorities achieve their dreams.
“Beverly played a pivotal role in my decision to join FedEx. I joined the company in 2002 as the first African-American female pilot.”
Brown later became a line check airman in September 2017. “A line check airman is a dual-role position, an instructor and an evaluator. We’re selected and trained by FedEx Express and designated by the FAA to train, evaluate and certify the competency of FedEx pilots, with respect to knowledge, skill and proficiency,” she explains.
Brown further reflects on her journey to earn her wings, recalling the barriers she had to overcome to succeed in this male-dominated industry.
“There were barriers, for sure. I didn’t know any pilots and didn’t know how to pay for flight school,” says Brown.
“I worked two jobs to pay for college and for flight training. I also wrote my family a letter asking them for support. I promised that if they would help me now, then I would pay them back when I had the money, and they helped me.”
Brown further revealed that Bill Norwood, who was the first African-American pilot at United Airlines, mentored her through the process. His help proved invaluable along her journey.
“I met Bill Norwood, the first black pilot at United Airlines, while in Tuskegee, AL at Operation Skyhook, and he introduced me to OBAP,” says Brown.
“That introduction [to him] provided me with the guidance I needed, and also helped me with scholarships for flight training,” she adds.
The career path that Brown chose wasn’t easy, having to work hard to prove herself capable and worthy of every opportunity.
“While studying for my degree in aviation business management, one of my professors, Ray Marshall, a retired Eastern Airlines pilot, made me a deal,” she recalls. “If I would babysit his son and pay for airplane fuel, he would provide the flight instruction I needed. That was the start of my career in aviation.”
He helped her get her private pilot’s license. From there OBAP helped her get an opportunity via its Professional Pilot Development program.
“A flight school was just opening, so I approached the owner of the school. I explained I was a hard worker, and looking to complete my instruments license while seeking a scholarship from OBAP. If he’d give me an opportunity, then he wouldn’t be disappointed. I answered phones, I would clean, whatever was needed. And they gave me a chance,” she says.
She offers advice to young girls who want to become pilots one day: be willing to put in the work.
“You have to make sacrifices, and the road is going to be hard. I let them know that I’m here to support them, to give them advice and to listen to them, because that was important to me,” Brown says.
However, belief in yourself is probably the biggest challenge to overcome. She advises not to allow negative attitudes 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,” she concludes.
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