Have you ever been on a flight and the captain and first officer of your flight are African American women? In the United States, there are less than 150 black women pilots in the United States holding airline transport pilot, commercial, military, and or certified flight instructor licenses. That is why Sisters of the Skies was founded – to drastically improve these numbers and open the doors for young African American women to pursue piloting careers.
Sisters of the Skies, Inc. (SOS) is a 501(c)3 National Aviation Organization that is comprised of women of color cultivating and promoting minority women in the aviation industry through scholarship, mentorship, and most of all emotional support. In aviation, the old saying of “Aviate, Navigate, then Communicate,” can sometimes be challenging for women of color. Sisters of the Skies meet these challenges by providing scholarships to young “Aviators”, providing mentorship in their quest to “Navigate” the aviation industry, and support to “Communicate” their desire to attain a professional pilot career.
Sisters of the Skies (SOS) was founded by Lieutenant Christine Angel Hughes in 2015. Lieutenant Hughes is currently a United States Coast Guard Pilot. The third child of four, born to Haitian immigrants in New Jersey, she knew she wanted to fly since science class in the 6th grade. Hughes has always believed that “mentorship is of the utmost importance.” Angel always wanted to be an airline pilot, but in the pictures of airline pilots, none of them looked like her. Sisters of the Skies show young girls that there are pilots that look like them. In addition, SOS provides student mentoring to college women who have had little to no exposure to professional pilot careers and demonstrate to these young Black women that professional pilot careers are attainable. They also have outreach programs geared towards students in elementary, middle and high school.
Angel credits the story of Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman (and the first Native American woman) to receive her pilot’s license in 1921, though she had to travel to France to do it. It is Coleman’s story that gave her the inspiration to keep going, as well as a couple of women at Eagle Fight when she was younger, and Hughes made it her mission to pay it forward.
Co-Founder of Sisters of the Skies, Nia Wordlaw, is a commercial airline pilot with United Airlines and serves as a first officer. Nia has over 20 years of experience in the aviation industry. As an African American female, she represents less than 1 percent of commercial airline pilots in the country. Nia has been featured in the April 2006 edition of Ebony Magazine, the September 2015 edition of Marie Claire Magazine, and was recently featured in PBS American Masters: The Women’s List – a documentary featuring 15 trailblazers who have shaped and influenced American culture. Wordlaw’s interest in flying began at the early age of 10, and she regularly speaks to inspire and motivate others. Wordlaw was recently awarded the 2016 Egretha Award presented annually to extraordinary African American women.
On April 28th, 2018 Sisters of the Skies in conjunction with Legacy Flight Academy conducted their first annual “Girls Rock Wings” community outreach event in Houston Texas at the Lone Star Museum with girls ages 10-17. The one-day event which introduced more than 50 young girls to careers in aviation. Legacy Flight Academy co-founder Kenneth Thomas said it best, “Today we helped our young ladies imagine a future for themselves that until today didn’t seem attainable or even realistic. Everywhere they looked they saw women in aviation career fields—female pilots who embodied excellence and reinforced the notion that they can do and be anything with hard work and sacrifice.” Dozens of girls got the chance to learn what it’s like to be a pilot — flying the skies right here in Houston. Sisters of the Skies partnered with the Lone Star Museum and the Legacy Flight Academy to create several hands-on activities and demonstrations. The eight-hour program included a tour of the air traffic control tower, a workshop on flight planning and execution, Q&A sessions with professional female pilots and introductory plane rides.
Sisters of the Skies will continue to work to increase the number of female pilots. Women currently represent only 6% of the pilot population in the US. Their goal is to increase those numbers through exposure, flight scholarships, and mentorship and all help is appreciated.