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First Black woman pilot for Delta goes home to share passion for aviation

Stephanie Johnson (255382)
Stephanie Johnson

Even 22 years after becoming an airline pilot, Stephanie Johnson still gets the looks… the ones she gets while greeting passengers from the cockpit door, or just walking through an airport, reports Those are the looks that say, “What are you doing in that uniform?” … or the ones that say, “You go, girl!” Johnson, the first Black woman pilot For Delta Air Lines, takes it all in stride.

She says fewer than 10 of Delta’s 14,000 airline pilots are Black women. So she tries to keep it positive. “It’s not a common thing, and until it is, until it’s no big deal, it’s important to be out there and be encouraging,” says Johnson 49. That’s part of the message the Cleveland native will share Feb. 2 when she presents a Black History Month program, “Dinner with a Slice of History,”ar the International Women’s Air & Space Museum at Burke Lakefront Airport. The talk goes along with being a pioneer in her field, according to Johnson. “If you’re doing something you love, especially something you have a passion for, it’s kind of your responsibility to share that,” she says. Dealing with the pressures of being a potential role model for future Black women aviators “can be a little tough,” Johnson says. “I know perfection is not attainable. I just try to do my best. Sometimes I just want to be anonymous, but you can’t. So I just take a deep breath and hug my kids.” A love of flying, going back to her childhood, kept Johnson on her flight to the pilot’s seat. The appeal of flying at an early age was “just getting off the ground and getting away and seeing new things. The Cleveland Air Show was always my favorite thing to do. I just loved the sound of the jets, and watching them tear up the sky. Her first taste of flying came in high school, when a teacher who owned a plane offered Johnson and her friends a ride if they could get their parents’ permission and money for gas. Once aloft, “that was it, man,” Johnson recalls. After graduating from Lakewood High School she attended Kent State University, where she earned a degree in aerospace technology, and also certificates as a private and commercial pilot and flight engineer with instrument and multi-engine ratings. She became a fight instructor at Medina Municipal Airport, then worked as an operations agent at Burke Lakefront Airport and as a charter pilot. After earning her airline transport pilot certificate in 1995, she was hired by Mesa Airlines. Two years later she was Northwest Airlines’ first Black female pilot, and then the first Black woman captain for Delta in 2016.