LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – M’lis Ward made history in 1998, when she became the first Black woman aviation captain for a major United States commercial passenger airline.
Whether it’s inside a United Airlines flight simulator or flying the friendly skies, Ward has soared to new heights in aviation during her more than 30-year-long career.
“You know, I never started my career thinking I’m going to trailblaze. I always just felt like I was going to do my job.”
She became the first Black woman captain at United Airlines and the first in the U.S. to fly commercial passenger airplanes, but even before flying with United she was a pioneer, the only woman to graduate in her Air Force pilot training class and the first Black woman instructor pilot in the Air Force.
“People saw me in my flight suit, and they were like. Wait a minute. Are you here for piloting? I’m like, yes, we’ve never seen anyone like you. So that was the first time I had an awareness that this was something groundbreaking,” said Ward.
She is now dedicated to bringing other women along for the ride.
“There is something about trailblazing that’s important, and it’s not about the status for yourself, but it’s about the opportunities for people behind you.”
She plays a part in the ascension of female pilots. She is a flight evaluator at United Airline’s flight training center and helps recruit through the United Aviate Academy.
The flight school plans to train at least 5,000 new pilots by 2030 with the goal of at least half of them being women or people of color.
“My job was to make the road wider. And then the people behind me. The job is to make the road smoother, and so it should continue on and continue until there are no more roads, anyway, you know, and no one is talking about this because we’ve done it all,” said Ward.
And she’s cleared the runway for the next generation of Black women pilots to know this flight path is possible.