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

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

Theresa Claiborne
Captain Theresa Claiborne did not know she had made history as the first Black woman to fly in the US Air Force. Photos: Theresa Claiborne.
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.

Read also

Harrysong's ex-wife replies his infidelity claims, spills more: "U seized my passport, phone"

“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.

Read also

UK-based medical doctor who applied for job 300 times finally lands a role after intense interview

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.

Read also

Junior Pope: “To everyone that killed you,” Ruby Orjiakor pens tribute to colleague, stirs assumption

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.

Read also

Nigerian student overcomes university admission denial, secures two full scholarships in US

BBNaija's Miracle graduates with distinction from US aeronautical varsity

Fans and netizens are amazed as Big Brother season three winner Miracle Ikechukwu Igbokwe graduated with a distinction in his master's degree from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

After his elegant appearance on the reality TV show, the pilot pursued his career and managed to live a life outside of the media despite a couple of controversies. also reported that Miracle graduated from aviation school and became a certified pilot. He showed off his certificate as a certified pilot after completing his airline transport pilot certification training at Bell Murray Aerospace.


Nkem Ikeke avatar

Nkem Ikeke (Copy editor) Nkem Ikeke is currently a copy editor who also writes for the politics and current affairs desk on weekends. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication degree from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (2010), and has over 10 years of work experience in the media industry (Reporter, News Agency of Nigeria). Email:

Chinasa Afigbo avatar

Chinasa Afigbo (Editor) Chinasa Afigbo is a pop culture/music journalist and content writer with over four years of experience in other mainstream media organisations, including Vanguard Media and Guardian Life. She holds a degree in Information Management Technology from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO). She also moved on to pursue courses in writing & media communications. Chinasa has also been published in other Intl journals, like The African Report. Reach her at:

Online view pixel