Brenda Robinson became the first Black female pilot in the military to be inducted into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame. (Twitter Photo)
“There is no time to be afraid,” Brenda Robinson said about carrier landings, “you just do it!”
Robinson, a retired Navy Reserve lieutenant commander, was the first Black female pilot certified to land on an aircraft carrier – the USS America – in January 1981. Six months earlier, she broke the navy’s gender-race barrier when she earned her wings.
Robinson was inducted into the Women in Aviation International (WAI) Pioneer Hall of Fame during WAI’s 27th annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee March 10-12. She is the first female military aviatrix to be inducted. Other Black inductees include pilots Bessie Coleman (1995), Willa Brown (2003), Janet Harmon Bragg (2003), and astronaut Mae Jemison (2003); all were listed in WAI’s 100 most influential women in aviation.
WAI was formed in 1990 as a nonprofit organization encouraging the advancement of women in all aviation fields. Astronauts, pilots, navigators, maintainers, engineers, airport managers, and other careers are represented among its 13,000 members.
Inside the Gaylord Opryland’s Presidential Ballroom, WAI founder and president Peggy Chabrian jubilantly announced WAI had crested $10,000,000 in scholarship giving since 1996. Over $661,000 was awarded during the Nashville convention.
Four of Robinson’s Black aviation school classmates accompanied her, including retired Navy Capt. Donnie Cochran, the first Black pilot and commander of the prestigious Blue Angels demonstration team. Cochran escorted Robinson onstage to receive the award.
Robinson grew up in North Wales, Pennsylvania; she had great friends, but also played easily by herself. Wearing her Sunday’s best for her first plane ride – to visit relatives in Chicago – Robinson thought, “I would do anything to travel like that.” Robinson studied hard and took advantage of educational opportunities to realize her dream.
While attending North Penn High School near Philadelphia, she learned about air traffic control in a career program at nearby Wings Field. At Dowling College in Oakdale, New York, she was the only Black woman majoring in aeronautics. During her first summer, she took flight lessons at MacArthur Airport in Islip, New York. There she met and flew with a woman pilot for the first time.
After college, Robinson was the only Black woman – one of 10 nationwide – selected for boot camp followed by naval flight training. On June 6, 1980, she became the navy’s 42nd woman to wear “wings of gold.”
After 34 years in the sky, the retired American Airlines pilot is more concerned about grooming the next generation of aerospace professionals, founding the Aviation Camp for the Carolinas in 2014 to encourage youth about aviation careers. Robinson authored two books: “Success is an Attitude, Goal Achievement for a Lifetime“; and “FOUND! The Lost Owner’s Manual for Growing African Hair”. She is working on her autobiography, “The Very First Raven” – her Navy call sign.
“We’ve come a long way,” Robinson said, turning her Hall of Fame acceptance speech into praise for the 2,000-plus banquet attendees. “You are the ones who are making me smile; you are confident, and you are dignified, and you are professional; you are making me proud . . . Thank you, I’m honored.”