Aviation Career Enrichment


Leslie Irby has made history as the first known Black woman with a disability to earn a pilot’s license.

The East Point, Georgia, resident didn’t let a wheelchair hinder her from achieving her goals. At age 16, she began flying at a local airport in Atlanta as part of the ACE (Aviation Career Enrichment) program. According to Because of Them We Can, she always looked up to famed Black aviator Bessie Coleman.

The ACE program was hosted by the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. Because of other Black pilots and professionals, Irby got the chance to manifest her dreams.

However, a devastating accident changed everything for the young fly girl. Seven years after her first flight, she was involved in a car crash that left her with a lifelong disability in 2013. Two people walked away from the collision, two were paralyzed and two died. Irby was one of the two who were paralyzed.

She told the outlet that doctors gave her the news she suffered a spinal cord injury. The news was life-changing but also inspired her to push forward.

“I started rehab at Shepard Center, in Atlanta,” Irby recalled. “The first day I was told I would be in a wheelchair, the therapist came in my room and I asked, ‘Do you all have a pink one I can borrow?’ They all laughed, but I knew this wasn’t going to be bad, this was going to be a new start, so why not be myself through it!”

Sometime after the routine doctor’s appointments, she wanted to return to the cockpit. Irby came across a program called Able Flight that aimed at getting people with disabilities back into the pilot’s chair.

She applied for a scholarship this year, was accepted and then started flight training at Purdue University on May 18. The work was hard and worth every minute. Within a month, she completed her first solo flight. 

On June 28, she passed her check ride, which is the final test needed to become a pilot, and received her official sport pilots license. She received her pilot’s wings at EAA AirVenture on Tuesday.

“My wheelchair is my blessing, I have so much more rockin n’ rollin to do!” she said.



Credit: blavity.com