TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “In the Air Force we all have a family, but (for) an all-Black crew to come together and achieve such a remarkable thing is nothing short of amazing,” said Capt. David Brown, 22nd Airlift Squadron pilot and aircraft commander.
A crew of 27 Black Airmen from Travis Air Force Base, California, flew a heritage flight on a C-5M Super Galaxy honoring Tuskegee Airmen Feb. 19-21 — a rare feat as only two percent of the Air Force are pilots and only two percent of those pilots are Black, according to Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., Air Force Chief of Staff.
“When I was a captain, I did an interview for Air Force Times, and it talked about the percentage of African Americans that were pilots,” stated Gen. Brown in an article published by Airman Magazine in December 2020. “It was two percent. That was 30 years ago. You know what it is right now? It’s still two percent.”
Capt. Brown explained that the historic mission was intended to demonstrate that any minority group could be an aviator in the Air Force, and it was deeply meaningful to the Airmen involved.
“This was a once in a lifetime flight,” said Capt. Brown. “Being part of an all-Black crew is kind of like having someone on board who gets everything about you. I believe something like this should happen multiple times a year.”
Capt. Jeff Jordan, 321st Air Mobility Operations Squadron C-17 Globemaster III pilot and a third-generation service member, echoed Capt. Brown’s sentiment.
“When I was a young boy, I never envisioned being a pilot,” said Jordan. “I never saw a Black pilot before, so I never considered flying a plane even though that was my dream.”
Today, Jordan is a part of the small percentage of Black aviators that Gen. Brown discussed, something Jordan said he hopes changes in the future.
“Being one who is in the two percent of the two percent is something I take pride in,” Jordan said. “It’s also something I want desperately to change.”
Jordan said the all-Black flight represents a world of opportunities for Black youth.
“Seeing Black leaders in our schools, communities, Air Force, and honestly anywhere for that matter, redefines what young Black kids set as goals for their lives,” said Jordan. “Tuskegee Airmen started the path for us, and it is imperative that we continue to pave the road for future generations.”
Part of the crew’s trip included a visit to Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Florida, where 30 Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets toured the aircraft and interacted with the crew — an experience that had a profound impact on one cadet.
“We had a young Black man in the cockpit and he couldn’t help but get emotional when he saw four Black pilots,” said Jordan. “He left our aircraft and said, ‘This changed my life. You all look like me, laugh like me, we are the same, and I know I can pursue this life. I can do this.’”
That is the goal of an experience like this, Capt. Brown said.
“Believe in yourself,” he said. “I’m not supposed to be here — I’m from a small conservative background, no planes around, airfields or any of that. Being able to come out of that environment, make something of myself and be a pilot in the United States Air Force as a minority feels surreal.”