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Theresa M. Claiborne: First Black Female Pilot in U.S. Airforce, United Airlines Retires After 43 Years

Theresa M. Claiborne
Theresa M. Claiborne was the first female African-American pilot in the United States Air Force (USAF). Photo: Claiborne.

Captain Theresa M. Claiborne has retired after 43 years of flying.

The pioneering aviator started as a second lieutenant and the first Black female pilot in the U.S. Air Force, and later as a captain at United Airlines.

Theresa was employed by United Airlines in January 1990 after seven years of active service with the Air Force and 13 years in the Air Force Reserves.

Her final landing for United on Thursday, May 23 at Newark, New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport marked her retirement after 34 years with the airline.

She has logged more than 23,000 career flight hours.

“I plan to spend my days inspiring young people to follow their dreams by turning them into goals, shattering glass ceilings, and defying all odds,” she said.

Theresa revealed she plans to inspire future trailblazers.

“I’ll be calling in my friends from all around the world to share their experiences to empower the next generation of trailblazers who are destined for greatness,”

“It’s been a pleasure to be your Captain and an absolute honour to fly the friendly skies,” she added.

Theresa is one of the few black female pilots in the U.S.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 93.7% of professional pilots in the U.S. are white and 92.5% are male.

WoK previously covered Elizabeth Marami, the first female marine pilot in Kenya.

32-year-old Elizabeth Marami is among the few women in the male-dominated industry, making history by becoming Kenya’s first female marine pilot.

She recently hit a new career milestone after passing Britain’s Coast Guard exam to be certified as a UK chief officer unlimited/master 3000GT.