For Lt. Andrea Lewis, flying has always been her dream.
After growing up in Stone Mountain, Lewis had long wanted to be a flight attendant like her mother, hoping to travel the world.
But she also had dreams of being a pilot, like her father. When she found a listing for a flight attendant with the Air Force Reserves, she applied, thinking it could combine both her interests.
“At first I was a little hesitant, but (my dad) encouraged me and it was a great fit,” Lewis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a phone interview Wednesday.
Now Lewis is ready to become the first black woman pilot to deploy as part of the Georgia Air National Guard. Details on Lewis’ deployment were not released as they are confidential.
A graduate of Tucker High School and later a University of Georgia graduate, Lewis comes from a family of aviators. Her father served 14 years in the Marine Corps as a pilot. He would then go on to work for 22 years with American Airlines. Lewis’ mom is a flight attendant with Delta Air Lines.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Lewis became a flight attendant with the Air Force Reserves in 2010, making her only the second civilian hired as an Air Force flight attendant. The position is usually reserved for airmen already in service with proven capabilities, but Lewis says a degree in French and time spent studying abroad gave her an edge.
The move was an emotional one, coming after the death of her father. Lewis said her coworkers and the Air Force Reserves encouraged her to continue to pursue her piloting dreams.
“Through them, I was able to start my initial involvement with flying airplanes,” she said.
In 2011, Lewis was hired as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines. Her schedule as a traditional guardsman allowed her the flexibility to continue pursing that dream, too.
“I could fly as I wanted, which was really nice, and Delta has been very supportive,” she said.
Lewis was accepted into the Georgia Air National Guard in 2014 and hired to be a pilot for the E-8C Joint STARS aircraft, a Boeing 707 frame outfitted with a radar and surveillance systems to take pictures of the ground and feed the images back to command centers.
While Lewis specializes in surveillance and reconnaissance, she had not been in anything military-related in high school or college, so “this is a very different path for me,” she said. Lewis is currently on military leave from Delta as she prepares for deployment.
Lewis is in a rare class. There are more than 42,600 commercial and non-commercial women pilots, according to Women in Aviation International, a nonprofit organization focused on advancing women in aviation. There are 609,306 pilots total.
Lewis stands alongside the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license, Bessie Coleman, and Delta’s first black female captain, Stephanie Johnson. Both are pilots she’s admired as history makers — and she doesn’t take being in their company lightly.
“I’m just honored to be thought of in the same light,” Lewis said. “They were definitely trailblazers for me. So, I hope (people) see me in the same light.”
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