Patricia White -- Vance’s first black female pilot-training graduate

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ashley Crist & Senior Airman Kathy Duran
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – United Airlines pilot Patricia White, was the first black female to graduate pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and the first black female Air Force Academy graduate to complete pilot training.

Her journey into aviation began as a child when she would rush out into the yard of her North Carolina home when she heard military fighter jets flying by. Those jets buzzing overhead set her up for a lifetime of flying.

Her brother, Elliot White, an Air Force KC-135 pilot, played a vital role in her Air Force career with encouragement, mentorship, and advice. “Upon expressing my desire to fly and follow in his footsteps, he was very encouraging and suggested I pursue my dream through the military,” said White.

With his help, she received a congressional appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy. After graduating from the Academy, she started her pilot-training journey with Class 87-06 at Vance.

“I was determined to graduate, so I did lots of ‘chair flying’ and praying to get my formation flying up to standards,” said White. “My nerves eventually calmed, allowing me to successfully complete the formation phase of flying the T-38C Talon.” 

Being the first black female to graduate was not on White's radar. “My focus was on graduating, not necessarily making history,” said White. “My dream was to fly, and accomplishing that dream was the driving force.”

While preparing to graduate with Class 87-06, 1st Lt. Pete Hargrove, a Vance T-37 instructor pilot, informed White that not only was she going to be the first black female to graduate pilot training at Vance, but also the first black female Air Force Academy graduate to complete pilot training.

“Needless to say, I was shocked,” said White. “My drive and determination came from wanting to make my dream a reality and feel that same exhilaration when I would race out of my house to see those fighter pilots flying low-level over my house in North Carolina.”

Following graduation, she received her wings and requested her mentor, Hargrove, who reminded her of her brother Elliot, to pin them on her. This moment was the culmination of her hard work and dedication throughout training.

After five years in the Air Force as a C-141 pilot, White decided to continue flying as a commercial airline pilot. “This is the best career ever. I love meeting people, working with people and helping to mentor people, while traveling to new and exciting places,” said White.

Throughout her experiences, she realized it was a constant challenge to stay focused on your goals despite obstacles. “It’s a battle to defeat the monster of dwindling self-confidence, especially when you encounter a setback. Use your setbacks to help you get back on track with your goals,” said White.

White’s achievement as the first black female to graduate from pilot training at Vance Air Force Base paved the way for more diversity in the Air Force pilot training program.

“There will always be injustice encountered. Stand firm in your goals,” said White. “Turn to your mentors, friends and family for strength and guidance. Hold on to your vision and see yourself accomplishing, or even surpassing, your goals,” said White.