Tuesday, July 17, 2012

First black female fighter pilot speaks to kids at The Children's Museum

This is from the Indy Star, way back on June 27. First black female fighter pilot speaks to kids at The Children's Museum

Kids visiting The Children's Museum of Indianapolis on Wednesday had a chance to hear about reaching their dreams and flying high -- from someone who has been there.
Air Force Major Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell, the first black female fighter pilot and a mother of two, stopped by the museum to talk with dozens of children ranging in age from 6 to 12 in the museum's neighborhood summer enrichment program. Kimbrell, 36, whose family moved from Lafayette to Colorado shortly after she was born, was expected to meet and greet more than 400 visitors during her visit, including families of the Tuskegee Airmen.
The Indianapolis Star sat down with Kimbrell after she met with a class of kids:
Question: What were some of the better (or funny) questions the kids asked?
Answer: They were asking me all kinds of things like how the oxygen mask worked. One of the kids was really into weather, so he asked, "What if you get icing on your wing tips?" And I was like, "That's actually a pretty good question."
Q: Why fighter pilot? How did you choose that career?
A: When I was in kindergarten, I wrote away to NASA to find out what it would take to be an astronaut and they sent me back this huge information packet. About fourth grade, I decided I was still in love with space and stars and flight and the air, but I wanted to do my job more than an astronaut would get to go into space. Because typically they only go a couple times in their lives, and I wanted to practice and to do that type stuff every day. So the next best thing was fighter pilot, where you get to do that all the time.
Q: How did you get there?
A: I took my first flying lesson (at 14) and it was absolutely everything I dreamed it would be and I absolutely loved it and I knew that was what I really wanted to do. So I got my private pilot's license when I was 16, actually before I got my driver's license. In my research throughout the years, I just knew I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy because that was the best opportunity to get a pilot training slot. I got accepted into the Naval Academy and got accepted into the Air Force Academy. I was really wanting to get out of Colorado at the time and go to college someplace new -- and Annapolis is beautiful, so I really felt tempted to go there -- but compared to spending all my time on carriers, flying from the ground sounded better.
Q: When did you get your wings?
A: I started training in Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas, in August of 1998 and graduated in August of 1999. Following that, you go to introduction of fighter fundamentals, and that's when you learn to use the jet more as a weapon; you learn tactics as opposed to just learning how to fly the jet from point A to point B without getting lost. I started flying the F-16 in late 1999 and graduated in 2000.
Q: Where else has this job taken you?
A: I spent about three years in Japan. That was my first operational assignment. Then I went to Korea for a year. Then I came back to Georgia, working with the Army as an air liaison officer, where we teach the Army how to use airplanes to meet the Army's objectives. That's where I had my first son. Then I went to Italy. Then, I came out of Italy and now I'm at Las Vegas, Nev., where we teach the overall course in air-to-ground integration.
Q: What were some of the biggest obstacles to get around?
A: One of my personal hardships has been that I always have been the kind of person to do things for myself. So learning at what point to ask for help was something that was very difficult for me. At pilot training, initially I struggled with the special orientation and instrument flying. The concept was a little bit foreign to me because I hadn't been used to flying with instruments. So I had to swallow my pride and just go ask for help. That was a hurdle for me that was put on by myself.
Q: What has changed in the Air Force since you started?
A: So much has changed. The jets themselves have changed. The training environment has changed. The numbers have changed; we're going through the draw down right now. There are a lot of things that have changed. It's a continually changing effort.
Q: What message do your achievements send to African-American women, or women in general?
A: Hopefully the message is that there's no barrier too high. That there's nothing they can't do. One is to set goals for yourself. It's kind of like the road map through life and there's no way you're going to get somewhere if you don't know where you're going. And two is to believe in yourself, because you're the only one that knows what you can do. And finally, never quit.


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