165th Air National Guard Names First Black Female Pilot

“It feels surreal … I never imagined being the first of anything."

1st Lt. Thessa Washington became the first African-American woman C-130H pilot at the 165th Airlift Wing.

What We Know:

  • This honor coincides with the Wing’s Black History month celebration, which marks the contributions and achievements made by numerous African Americans in the military.
  • Washington started her military career as a structural maintainer. Before that, she attended Georgia Southern. She was like any normal college student attempting to figure out her life. Then, in her junior year, she decided to enlist.
  • Washington enlisted in the Wing October 2009 as an Airman 1st class sheet metal maintainer. After graduating basic training, she attended technical school in Florida and returned to Savannah, GA to resume her training until commission in 2017.
  • “There’s so many other people who’ve paved the way and it’s an honor to have my name mentioned among retired Lt. Col. Theresa Claiborne, who was the first in the Air Force, and Capt. Andrea Lewis, who was the first black female pilot in the State Guard.”
  • Washington described the training as tough, but she believes that it was ultimately rewarding. “It’s definitely not the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “The distinction of being the first and the only is incredibly humbling.”
  • Pilots are expected to undergo rigorous training on survival technique and are required to meet the height and weight standard. The journey to earning pilot wings typically lasts two years. She’ll have to complete six months of seasoning training at the Wing to become fully qualified, she said. “I plan to be in the Guard until I’m old and have cataracts. It’s been the best gig I’ve ever had,” she said.

Lieutenant Washington says she is qualified on the aircraft but is still in training to become mission qualified.

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Jakiyah Haywood is an Digital Intern at UnmutedCo.