Aviation for Women

MAY-JUN 2018

Aviation for Women is the flagship member publication of Women in Aviation International. Articles feature women who have made aviation history, professional development ideas, and current-topic articles.

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18 AviationforWomen M A Y / J U N E 2 0 1 8 "I knew I wasn't an office person, so I knew if I pursued that, it would be solely for a paycheck," Tahirah says. "After more research, I came across aviation, and the more intrigued I became about the possibilities in the field. I actually went to col- lege not knowing that I wanted to be a pilot. In fact, I started studying aerospace technology and then it just came to me. It was like an epiphany when God said, 'This is what you're going to do.'" And so began the scholarly quest. After obtaining an associate's degree in aerospace technology from Farmingdale College in New York, Tahirah trans- ferred to St. Francis College in her home borough of Brooklyn, where she earned her bachelor's degree in aviation business management. "It was a five-year program, where I started out in engineering the first year, where we took courses in aerospace, mechanical, electrical—all engineering fields. After that one year, we decided which track we were going to pursue," she says. Unfortunately, Tahirah encountered some pro- fessors along the way who made it difficult. "Can you believe it? The very people you expect to en- courage you along your journey are telling me I should consider other career options." In one case, Tahirah was encountering difficul- ties during a technical writing class. Her instructor emphatically stated, "If you can't handle this, you're not made to be in this pro- fession at all." In another instance, the hurdles were even more pronounced. "When we were taking physics, which is in two parts, you take your academia and then you do your lab," she explains. "But no one in the class wanted to be my partner. I was the only woman, and I was the only black person. So I had to drop out of the class because the professor did not assist by assigning anyone to be my partner." While those earlier challenging days are remembered, Tahirah has a calmness and professionalism that defines her approach to all obstacles thrown in front of her. "The driving credo that has been pivotal for me, and I will tell people this for as long as I'm breathing: 'Do not allow the igno- rance, the prejudice, and negative actions of others influence and change who you are.'" Bear in mind, there were skeptics both inside and outside the classroom. Despite the hurdles she faced at school, the person she was most determined to convince, was her own father. Wayne Sr. had his doubts about his own daughter becoming a full-fledged pi- lot, so in true rebel form, Tahirah decided to tackle his reservations head on. In 1992, she took her first flying lesson in a Cessna 172, with a special guest on board. "We flew out of Long Island up to Greenwich, Connecticut, with my father in the back seat," Tahirah says. "It was so incredibly ex- hilarating. I sat there and thought, 'This is my view—this is my of- fice.' It was freedom for me. It really was. And there was my father looking over my shoulder. I could tell he was proud." This is the kind of self-reliance and unmitigated determina- tion that has driven Capt. Tahirah since she was a child. But even as a self-proclaimed rebel, who can shoulder what- ever load is heaped upon her, she's always been intel- ligent enough—honest enough—to realize that even she needs people in her court. In other words, it wasn't so much the actual flying that presented issues for her, but finding the people who could help open doors. "Make no mistake, I was proud of myself and all that I had ac- complished leading up to my actual flying, but the support outside of my family—in the industry—simply wasn't there at the time," she says. "That's why the Organization of Black Aerospace Profes- sionals (OBAP) played such a critical part in the early part of my career. In the military, you have your squadron, who are there to lift you up. As a civilian, I was my own support network." In the same year she first flew, she also joined OBAP, and forged relationships with some very prominent aviators, who had truly made their mark on the industry. People like Aaron Gould and Bill Norwood quickly spotted something special in Tahirah, and both were intent on helping her get her foot inside the door. "While we were in college, I was a part of Alpha Eta Rho, which is an aviation fraternity comprised of men and women, and we took a trip down to Tuskegee, Alabama, to participate in Operation Skyhook one summer," Tahirah says. "There, I met Charles Alfred 'Chief' Anderson, one of the Tuskegee Airmen, and I met Capt. Bill Norwood, the first African-American hired at United. He told me about OBAP, and I really became interested in attending a confer- ence, but we were just college students, and I'm working two jobs just to come down here." Capt. Bill told the young student that all she needed to do was pull together $25 and he would make sure she and her friends made it to the next conference, which they did. Tahirah began to build the momentum she needed, earning flight instructor posi- tions at Enterprise Airline Academy and Control Aero Corp. The girl from Brooklyn was starting to feel her wings. But it wasn't until 1997, when circumstances really became intriguing. "I met an incredibly bright man, David Brown, while doing An OBAP and FedEx connecƟon—Tahirah is married to FedEx pilot Capt. David Brown.

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