For more than a century, pioneering pilots like Eugene Bullard, Emory Malick and Bessie Coleman have helped advance the aviation industry, diversifying the skies as some of the world’s first black pilots.
While these pioneers symbolize how black aviators have broken down countless barriers, black pilots make up just 3.4% of the nation’s aviation pilots, with women making up just 5.6%. Black women make up less than 1% of that total, according to 2020 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In honor of Black History Month, we pay tribute to three Collins Aerospace employees – Gabby Howell, DeWayne Rittenhouse and George Anyanwu – who pursued their dreams of becoming pilots, pursued careers in the aviation industry and continue to inspire the next generation of black pilots. .
Paving the way for black women pilots
Gabby Howell knew how to fly an airplane before she knew how to drive a car. At age 14, she completed the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program, which introduces young people to aircraft construction and the fundamentals of flight. She officially received her pilot’s license at age 17.
Inspired by her father’s love of aviation, Gabby became the first person in her family to become a pilot.
“It’s the art of flying that I love,” Howell said. “I always knew there weren’t a lot of female pilots, especially black females. I knew I was entering a realm where seeing someone who looked like me was rare. It was very intimidating, but I was up for the challenge and took off. I wanted to show other black women that becoming a pilot is an option for them and I believe all women can do amazing things.
For Gabby, the journey to becoming a pilot was all about getting the right skills and knowledge. Upon completing her training, she received a scholarship from the Georgia Business Aviation Association and earned an associate’s degree in aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Today, Gabby’s love of airplanes fuels a career in aviation at Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies company.
“I chose to work with Collins Aerospace because it’s a great company. We are doing a great job in the area that I love so much,” she said. “Joining this team was a big step towards realizing my dream of pursuing opportunities in aviation.”
Fly under pressure
“If you want to challenge yourself in the military, become a pilot.”
Those words from a retired Vietnam veteran changed the course of DeWayne Rittenhouse’s military career and encouraged him to become a US Army helicopter pilot.
DeWayne – a U.S. Navy Customer Business Manager at Collins Aerospace – originally joined the U.S. Army in 1985 as an M60A3 tanker in the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea and was later appointed Division
Soldier of the Year. Four years later, he graduated from flight school and completed two additional overseas tours to Germany and Saudi Arabia as an AH-64A Apache helicopter pilot.
“During a mission in 1991 as part of Operation Desert Storm, I had a double engine failure and was forced to land in enemy territory, Rittenhouse said. “We were about 50 feet above the ground,” he recalled. “I don’t remember looking at the instruments – I just adjusted the flight controls to keep the airspeed high enough to make a shallow landing on the ground. Luckily my old flight instructor recognized our downed plane and sent a recovery team to back it up.
After his overseas tours, DeWayne became a flight instructor. It has trained nearly 40 military pilots in areas such as tactical flight training and gunnery operations – missiles, cannons and rocket deployments.
As one of the few black military pilots, he often felt the pressure not just to succeed, but to be the best. That desire to excel remains with him today as he encourages other people of color to explore Army aviation. He also inspired his nephew, who is about to begin training to become a military aviator.
Let curiosity guide the way
George Anyanwu was only five years old when he discovered his passion for aviation. He spotted a plane in the sky, and today his curiosity about that plane has taken him halfway around the world from his hometown of Mbaise, Niger.
After high school, he applied to the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, the premier aviation training institute in Nigeria, and was one of two applicants from his home country selected to attend the institution. There he underwent three years of training, but was forced to look elsewhere for his license due to a shortage of fuel and other resources in Nigeria.
He moved to California and enrolled in a local flight school where he earned his commercial pilot’s license. However, even with his training completed and his license in his pocket, he struggles to find a job while the careers of his comrades take off.
“The majority of my classmates were white and they had access to people, resources and opportunities that I didn’t have,” Anyanwu said. “I even looked for jobs that allowed me to transport passengers and supplies for free, but I couldn’t even take those opportunities. After years of trying to find a job, I returned to Nigeria and immediately received a job opportunity with Dornier Aviation.
For nearly four decades George enjoyed the fun of flying, now a senior engineer, today he flies for fun in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with the Collins Aerospace Employee Flying Club. This summer, he will pass on his love of flying to his two teenage daughters by inviting them for the first time to be his co-pilots.