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Meet the First Female African-American Disabled Pilot

Leslie Irby

When Leslie Irby flew her first plane at 16-years-old, she knew nothing would stop her from becoming a pilot. Not even being paralyzed.

An Aviation Career Enrichment program in Atlanta styled to cater to African-American children was the first passage Leslie was granted to walk into her destiny. Looking up to Bessie Coleman, the first woman of African/Native descent to have a pilot license, Irby's determination to follow-suit was unwavering. However, a head on car collision challenged those dreams.

Leslie was one of two people who were paralyzed in the accident due to a spinal cord injury. Regardless, being in a wheelchair never stopped her from being herself. In fact, being wheelchair-bound pushed her even harder to train to be the pilot she always wanted to be. She told Because of Them We Can:

“I am an avid traveler. I have visited more countries in my wheelchair than I have able bodied. One day while flying I had the epiphany that I should be the one flying myself to some of these places. ‘Why spend hundreds of dollars on an airline when I can fly myself?’”

She was granted a scholarship to join the Able Flight program, a system designed to expose those with disabilities to cockpit controls. That's where she learned of sky arrow 600 planes that only needed navigation from hands to be guided. Seven weeks of classes later, she earned her license!

"Through conversation and historians, there is not an African American female pilot on record with a disability. This would make me the first!”

Even in a wheelchair, Leslie soars way above most of our heads. Keep "rockin' n' rollin,'" Irby!

Photo: Because of Them We Can