She was the Navy’s first African American female pilot. Now in retirement after 45 years of flying, Brenda Robinson is teaching young adults of all backgrounds all things aviation in Charlotte.
When Robinson was growing up in the 1950s outside Philadelphia, physically flying a plane wasn’t something that crossed her mind.
She thought that being a woman in Aeronautics meant being a flight attendant — but thanks to a career study program at her high school, she was able to broaden her view of aviation.
It was there she decided to become an air traffic controller.
“When I got to go to an air traffic control tower I stepped onto the tower, looked around and said this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life?” Robinson said.
After high school, Robinson enrolled at Dowling College in New York — one of the best aviation schools on the East Coast.
She eventually became the first black woman in Dowling’s history to graduate with a degree in Aeronautics, and also earned a pilot’s license.
“I didn’t know I would run up the stairs and turn left to do my job,” Robinson said. “I just assumed I would turn right, left was always into the cockpit.”
Robinson then went on to join the U.S. Navy in 1977, just one year after women were authorized to attend the Naval Academy.
“At the time they were selecting 10 women a year out of the nation and I was one of those 10,” she said.
In 1980, she became the first African American female pilot in the U.S Navy to earn her wings.
“They were opening a door, I didn’t know was closed,” Robinson said.