Meet the First Black Woman to Pilot Spy Plane
In order for Navy SEAL teams to hunt down terrorists, or for foreign policy analysts to track the movement of WMDs—or to detect whether Iran is, in fact, developing a nuclear weapons program—our leaders rely on special pilots to capture that type of intelligence through the use of spy-plane cameras.
Merryl Tengesdal (that’s Lt. Col. Merryl Tengesdal to you) is the only African-American female pilot to man—or, rather, woman—the U-2 spy plane, a highly complex aircraft that captures that kind of valuable imagery.
As Women’s History Month comes to an end, Tengesdal, 43, spoke with The Root from an Air Force base in California about her journey growing up in New York City’s Boogie Down Bronx, and how she climbed the ranks in both the Navy and the Air Force to become such a distinguished spy-plane pilot.
Tengesdal said she knew pretty early on that she wanted to be an astronaut, or some sort of pilot, but she got pushback from her dad, who questioned whether human beings were even meant to fly.