In honor of Women’s History Month, AfroTech has decided to celebrate Black women at the helm of the modern aviation industry.
Check out six Black women leading the industry below:
Stephanie C. Hill, Executive Vice President of Lockheed Martin Rotary and Missions Systems
Stephanie C. Hill is executive vice president of Rotary and Mission Systems (RMS) for Lockheed Martin Corporation. In her 33-year tenure at RMS, she’s held several senior positions, serving as president or vice president for different arms of the business. She is also a champion for women and people of color in STEM careers.
In a recent interview with The Network Journal, she spoke about her passion for helping the next generation of leaders: “Our industry requires top talent in engineering and science, and our nation right now is facing a critical shortage of STEM workers,” she told The Network Journal. “We have to encourage as many young people as possible to pursue STEM careers. Underrepresented minorities, including African Americans and Latinos, are particularly underrepresented in the STEM fields, and this motivates me to shout from the rooftops that careers in STEM are incredibly exciting and rewarding.”
In 2014, she was named the Black Engineer Of The Year.
Sierra Grimes, Senior Manager, Registration & Programs at National Business Aviation Association (NBAA)
A graduate of Howard University, Grimes claims she stumbled into business aviation by accident. After graduating from Howard, she applied for a job at NBAA through a temp agency and got hired for a six-month contract. At the end of her six-month gig, NBAA offered her a full-time job.
“I went to Howard and studied political science there, had no desire for aviation [and] had no understanding of aviation whatsoever,” Sierra explained to AfroTech.”The night before [the interview] I was up researching, ‘what is business aviation?'”
Grimes has been with NBAA for six years now and has become a champion for underrepresented groups in business aviation. She launched the YoPro program at NBAA to help develop and recruit the next generation of aviation professionals. Sierra says the idea for the program came to her after attending years of NBAA events.
“We have 23,000 people at NBAA-BACE every year and I would walk around the show floor or walk around at that conference, and see my peers, but I didn’t know them. But if their boss was around, I would probably know who their boss is. It showed me there was a disconnect,” she explains.
Rexy Rolle, Vice President of Operations and General Counsel of Western Air
Having grown up in the family business, Rolle is now helping take her family-founded airline to new heights. Rolle’s parents started San Andros, Bahamas-based Western Air when she was a child. Now, she’s the airline’s Vice President of Operations and General Counsel making her one of very few Black women executives in the airline industry.
In an interview with Forbes in 2020, she told them:
“When this pandemic stops, I look forward to our bustling operations every day again,” she said. “As tired as I was, I miss calls from dispatch. I miss that excitement.”
Right now, Western Air flies exclusively between islands in the Bahamas. but Rolle told Forbes that Western Air has plans to expand its service to Florida, Georgia, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic.
Angel Hughes, Founder, Sisters of the Skies
Angel Hughes fell in love with space the first time she heard about it in her sixth-grade class.
“I first got into aviation when I was in the sixth grade just sitting through science class. I remember I was 11-years-old and the teacher introduced astronomy to my class and I immediately fell in love with everything having to do with space,” she told AfroTech.
“Initially, I wanted to be an astronaut; more specifically the pilot of the space shuttle,” she added.
She held on to that dream and when she graduated high school, she enrolled in Jacksonville University’s aviation program. However, when Angel graduated from Jacksonville University with a commercial pilot’s license, airline pilot jobs were scarce. So, she joined the Coast Guard and spent 11 years as a Coast Guard aviator.
Now she’s back in the civilian world in a coveted position as a 757/767 First Officer for UPS, and she loves her job more than ever.
“Every time I go fly, I just absorb as much as I can from the captains and just try to become a master of my craft,” she said. “It never gets old. It still feels like the first time every time I go flying, and I fly often.”
She’s also giving back to the community through Sisters of the Skies, a non-profit organization that offers scholarships and mentorships for young Black women pursuing aviation careers.
Keyra Lynn Johnson, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at Delta Air Lines
Keyra Lynn Johnson was recently appointed to the role of Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at Delta Airlines. Ms. Johnson is a 26-year Delta Airline veteran. However, this latest appointment positions her as one of the most powerful players in the nation’s second-largest airline by passengers carried.
“She is charged with leading the company in modeling a comprehensive diversity, equity and inclusion strategy with supporting programs, initiatives and action plans that have impact on Delta employees, customers and the community. Under Keyra’s leadership, Delta’s strategy seeks diversity, pursues equity, promotes inclusion and drives accountability for actions that foster sustainable results,” Johnson’s Delta bio explains.
Stephanie Chung, Chief Growth Officer at WheelsUp
Robb Report called her one of the “23 Black Visionaries Who Are Changing The Luxury World Right Now,” and they weren’t kidding. Stephanie Chung’s resume is breathtakingly impressive. From starting out as a baggage handler at an airline to becoming a Vice President of Sales at Bombardier, then President at JetSuite, Chung has blazed an impressive path in the aviation industry. Now, she serves as WheelsUp’s first Chief Growth Officer and was recently honored by Oprah Magazine.
“I think I’m more grateful for having parents that told me that I could do anything, be anything just work hard, put my mind to it and commit,” Stephanie told AfroTech when asked about her drive to succeed. “So, if you’re going to get in, get all in. You’re never going to accomplish anything without absolutely being all in and committed to it,” she adds.
In an interview with AfroTech, Stephanie also recalled a defining moment in her life when, at 16-years-old, she met a female Air Force general.
“I remember that one of the highest-ranking female generals came to the base and she came to get a sandwich. So, I got to make a sandwich for her and I just remember looking at her in awe, and she had all the medals,” Stephanie recounts. “It was just so cool to watch her with such poise and grace, but to also watch all the soldiers standing at attention in a big and powerful way.”
Now, she’s establishing herself as one of the most powerful people in the aviation industry. WheelsUp is set to go public in Q2 2021 at a $2.1 billion valuation.