Jill Brown-Hiltz made history 40 years ago by becoming the first Black woman pilot for a major commercial airline company. She is also the first Black woman admitted to the U.S. Navy’s pilot training program as well.
Born Jill Elaine Brown in 1950, the Baltimore native’s family were all big fans of aviation. By the time she was 17, the family purchased a small airplane, sparking a lifelong love of flying. Brown-Hiltz’s stint in the Navy only lasted six months after she was honorably discharged, but finding her way to the skies was elusive until her big break.
The first Black-owned and operated airline company, Wheeler Airlines, hired Brown-Hiltz as a ticket clerk and she eventually worked her way up to becoming a pilot. She earned the requisite number of flight hours to become a pilot for a major airline and in 1978, she flew for Texas International Airlines. Brown-Hiltz reportedly said that Texas International was using her for publicity, and she eventually took her talents to Zantop International Airlines.
In 1990, she unsuccessfully sued United Airlines for racial and gender discrimination, losing an appeal in the matter in 1997. After flying, Brown-Hiltz reportedly worked as an advocate for other Black aviators.
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