Tuskegee Pilot Chrystal Cole
The sky’s the limit for first female Tuskegee pilot in 60 years
Chrystal Cole holds her Tuskegee University diploma in Wichita, Kansas. Cole has become Tuskegee's first woman pilot in about 60 years, and one of a small number of black women aviators in the U.S. (Photo: ©Larry W. Smith/AP Images)
Like Amelia Earhart in her day, Chrystal Cole knew early on that she had to fly. Earhart discovered her desire to soar at a state fair when she was 10. Cole was in the sixth grade when she got her inspiration to fly—from Earhart! Her school performed a play about Earhart, who disappeared in an attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world.
Cole is now the first female Tuskegee pilot in six decades. She graduated from a program that began in 2001 to encourage diversity in the aviation industry. The program is a joint effort between Tuskegee University and Kansas State University. It is designed to honor the legacy of a famous all-black fighter-pilot unit in World War II called the Tuskegee Airmen.
Hard Work and Inspiration
Along with inspiration, Cole needed support, she said. She got that from her parents and grandparents. They all pushed her to accomplish her goals, despite the obstacles she faced.
“I’m very proud of myself,” Cole said. “I didn’t know it was such a major thing when I was going through the process.” She hopes that her accomplishments will help pave the way for other young women interested in flying.
Having to stay focused was her biggest obstacle. Her gender did not stand in her way, Cole said. She just had to work hard. To complete the joint program, Cole had to earn a bachelor’s degree from Tuskegee in aerospace engineering. She also had to earn a degree as a professional pilot at Kansas State. She worked on these at the same time, attending Tuskegee during the regular school year and Kansas State in the summer. She worked at this pace for three years and is now only the second student to complete the program since it began six years ago.
“It was definitely not clear skies, but every single struggle was worth it,” Cole said. “It was my passion so I was willing to do whatever it took.”
Her next step is to get a job flying for a commercial airline. She is also working to complete an engineering degree from Tuskegee.
“Flying is fun,” Cole said as she remembered the excitement of her first solo flight. She was 19 years old at the time. “Just being able to control the controls was very exciting to me.”
Words of Wisdom
The young aspiring pilot set her goals high and worked hard to accomplish them. Scholastic News asked if she had any words of wisdom for kids or other women who want to fly.
“First make sure that your goal is something you want to do with your life and it’s not anything you take for granted,” she said. “You’re lucky to get an opportunity to fly and be trained. If you stay focused and motivated, you can do anything. Even if it is not flying! Anything that you want to do, if you really want to do it, you will need to be focused and keep going for your goal.”
CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH
For more on the achievements and contributions of African Americans to U.S. History, return to the Scholastic Kids Press Corps' Black History Month Special Report.
Robyn Haynes is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.