July 1999

Shirley Tyus

Pilot

Shirley Tyus

Shirley Tyus, the daughter of Martin Bullock and Marcelle Suber, was born on June 28, 1950 in Spartanburg, S.C. She is the first African American female pilot to fly for United Airlines, a distinction which makes her a trailblazer in aviation history. She is currently a First Officer on a United Airlines Boeing 727. Her life is the manifestation of someone who not only dreamed but also worked hard to fulfill her dreams. Officer Tyus’ aviation career began as a United Airlines Flight Attendant in 1972. She soon realized that her real desire was to become an airline pilot. In 1977, she embarked on her mission by enrolling in flight training at the Professional Flight School in Friendly, Md. In August, 1979, she acquired her commercial pilot’s license. Now a pilot, Tyus balanced the demands of being a United Flight Attendant by day with piloting cargo aircraft for the African American owned Wheeler Airlines, based in Raleigh, N.C., by night. During this time, she also managed to enroll in the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Her efforts demonstrated motivation, organization, and determination. In 1985, she earned her Airline Transport Pilot Rating. In 1987, her dream was further fulfilled when United Airlines hired her as a pilot. She continued training at United Airlines’ state of the art Flight Training Center. It was after completing this advanced training that Tyus began flying for United Airlines. Officer Tyus is vice president of the Bessie Coleman Foundation, Inc. BCF was founded in 1995 by a group of African American women involved in the aviation industry. One of the goals of BCF is to encourage young men and women to pursue aviation related careers. Tyus has appeared on several television programs and has been featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles, including The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Ebony, Jet, and West African publications. Numerous organizations have honored her for contributions to aviation and for her interest in the advancement of women and Black Americans in the field of aviation. Among her cherished memories are her grandfather’s words that, of all of his grands, she was the only one who thought that she was a bird; of taking her father up for his airplane ride in a Cessna 172; and, the memory of landing a Boeing 737 airliner at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, on a runway that her father had helped build. Tyus also credits her stepfather, Will Munn, for his tremendous influence and support of her dreams. Officer Tyus adheres to the philosophy that “If we stand tall, it is because we stand on the backs of those who have gone before us.” She firmly believes that we must keep our backs strong for those behind us and our hands united for those in front of us.