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Young Black Female Pilot Flies First Plane by Herself at Age 16
By Betti Halsell Contributing Writer
Published March 25, 2021

L.A. native, Cailey Stewart, flew her first plane by herself at age 16 when she felt the rush of navigating a 172 aircraft across the sky and seeing the outline of the city through the haze of fluffy clouds. Stewart became addicted to the scene and adrenaline. Two years later, she is engulfed by the technicalities of aviation; with the support of her mother and mentors, the sky is the limit for Stewart.

Sherie, Stewart’s mother, saw the spark in her daughter’s eyes whenever she was aboard a plane. Sherie would travel and prepare aircrafts for a safe journey as a flight attendant for United Airlines,  Stewart would be among the pilots.  “She was like drawn to it,” Sherie said, explaining her daughter’s early signs of obsession. “She’s just been addicted to it—around 15 she said, ‘I don’t want to play soccer anymore, I want to fly airplanes.’”

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Hypnotized by the procedures of flying a plane, Stewart’s fascination grew and Sherie began to foster her curiosity. The elevated obsession started when she was young; Stewart expressed her earliest memories of being called into the cockpit and introduced to the navigation of the plane when she would go to work with her mother.

Sherie stated that she knew she was hooked when Stewart told her after a couple of trips to the cockpit, that her new passion was aviation. It was right then, Sherie knew that she would have to do everything within her power to get Stewart on the path of channeling her dream.

Stewart’s mom went on to describe when Stewart was in the fifth grade, she expressed her vision of being a pilot or engineer. Sherie called on her good friend, who also worked at United Airlines as a first officer on the 777 aircraft, and who also sits as a chairperson for the Organization of Black People in Aerospace (OBAP).

This led to Stewart entering an apprenticeship with Tony Marshall, a former military pilot; Marshall supported Stewart’s growth by giving her access to a discovery flight. Going further into the aspiration with flying, Stewart was offered acceptance into OBAP Solo Camp.

Stewart said, “I always loved flying and when I tell people about it—I just feel like its inspiring; there’s not many female pilots. For me to do it, its something different because a lot of people don’t try something different …” She continued to explain the inspiration that her story brings to other people, because her presence in aviation is breaking barriers.

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The pilot to be is looking to fly big commercial planes in addition to flying in the air force. “The plane I want to fly is a C-130 which is the huge cargo planes that they have, right now I’m training on Cessna-152, those are the little planes that you start off with.” (courtesy of Sherie Stewart)

Stewart professed her genuine love for flying is what keeps her motivated; she referred back to her first solo expedition of navigating a plane. She said, “Just flying in a plane by myself, I just thought it was so awesome—it was so fun! After that, that’s when I knew I wanted to do it.” Stewart continued to elaborate on several other times the passion for flying was evident, but the solo ride of flying the plane by herself solidified the feeling.

The pilot-to-be is looking to fly big commercial planes in addition to flying in the air force. “The plane I want to fly is a C-130, which is the huge cargo planes that they have. Right now, I’m training on Cessna-152, those are the little planes that you start off with.”

Outlining her plan, Stewart said, “Once I get all my licenses, I plan on flying the bigger planes like the 777, that’s what I really want to do.” Stewart keeps her flame of passion burning by connecting to more people in the aerospace community, such as the Sisters of the Skies, a national organization for “women of color cultivating and promoting minority women in the aviation industry through scholarship, mentorship, and most of all emotional support.”

Stewart has been obsessed with the power of being woman of color in her position. She painted a reality that it is rare to see someone like herself as a pilot. This perspective has also added to Stewart’s determination.

Stewart was accepted to several aviation schools and has received a scholarship from Boeing; her top schools of choice are California Aeronautical University, University of North Dakota, Kent State University in Ohio, and College of Aviation & Aeronautical Science at LeTourneau University. Due to the pandemic, Stewart has not been able to visit all the campuses, she is keeping her options open.

As a Palisades Charter high school student, she’s studies the general subjects one needs to know to be successful on the ground, but outside of that domain, she’s taking flight through the Long Beach Airport. Stewart is currently receiving private lessons and will obtain her private pilot license soon. Stewart will have one milestone crossed off her list and she will move on to accomplishing her goal of flying massive aircrafts.

The hardest part in earning a credential in aviation is learning the technicalities of a plane; Stewart mentioned flying is the easiest part, she elaborated on the challenges, “Studying and doing the ground school, learning the dynamics of the plane—it’s a lot of work, having to study the different parts of the plane.”

“I been flying my whole life,” Stewart said.  She explained her love for aviation, having worked diligently and preparing herself for the next level of her career. She also expressed her adventurous nature. Stewart would like to go sky diving as well. When it comes to heights, Stewart described herself as fearless. She said, “It’s just not scary to me, I’m kind of like a dare-devil. I like doing crazy stuff, I want to go sky diving, I like doing stuff like that.”

When Stewart heard that the sky was the limit, she tested those boundaries. Flying her first plane by herself at age 16, with laser beam focus, Stewart is shaping up to make her dreams in aviation a reality no matter the altitude. Stewart closed with this statement, “Even though it gets hard, you don’t give up, even though you don’t see people like yourself, just keep going because—I mean you’re breaking barriers.”

Categories: Local | National | News | News (Family)
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