Black Pilots Blazing The Trail: First Officer Charlene Shortte

By DeAnna Taylor


First Officer Charlene Shortte was always the one looking to try new hobbies as a kid. The Landover, Maryland native participated in everything from band to cheerleading, and even track.

During her years at Duval High School in Prince George County, her eyes were opened to a whole new world. She credits a lot of her success to her friends, mentors, and teachers at Duval.

Related: Black Pilots Blazing The Trail: First Officer Diana Lugemwa

Photo courtesy of First Officer Charlene Shortte

Journey into aviation

Her mother encouraged her to try her hand at JROTC, seeing as though she had a military background herself. Charlene took her mother’s advice and the rest was history.

After high school, she applied to the Air Force Academy. While this wasn’t the actual Air Force, it was a way for her to get more exposure into the field. She was fortunate to receive an appointment from the government to attend.

“The Lord really provided for me,” First Officer Charlene Shortte told Travel Noire.

Photo courtesy of First Officer Charlene Shortte

During her 3rd year of the academy, she had to undergo a physical that was required for those looking to move on to the Air Force. Charlene, who wore glasses at the time, was nervous about the process because wearing glasses wasn’t a good thing for future pilots. However, the doctor provided her with a special vision waiver that allowed her to move on and take a pilot training slot.

Charlene began flying glider planes during her time in the military. This is ironic because she learned to fly planes before ever receiving her driver’s license.

She went on to receive her private pilot’s license in 2002 before moving to her new home in Okinawa, Japan. She was on the Aero-medical team which transported patients from Japan to hospitals in Hawaii. Next, she went to Kansas where she also met her husband.

Photo courtesy of First Officer Charlene Shortte

He too was a pilot in the Air Force. After getting married, the Shortte’s moved to California where they would spend the next few years and Charlene would birth her first two children.

“I separated from the Air Force after my 10-year commitment was up. Our family relocated to New Hampshire where I had become pregnant with my 3rd child. My husband then decided to leave the military.”

With her husband’s decision to leave, Charlene needed to get back to work. She started the interviewing process while 7 months pregnant and later started working for a regional airline.

Photo courtesy of First Officer Charlene Shortte

Her eyes were really set on getting in with a commercial airline carrier. Through the help of a mentoring program under the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), Charlene was able to land her job with American Airlines in 2017.

“OBAP along with Sisters of the Skies was very instrumental in getting me to where I am now. It was nice to find spaces with other Black pilots who looked like me. I saw a few in the Air Force, but nothing like this.”

Thoughts on being a trailblazer

“It’s been very eye-opening. I took for granted that being a Black woman pilot was rare. Yes, you feel alone at times but at the end of the day you’re an airman.”

These days, the distinction of being a Black woman pilot is something that she doesn’t take for granted. Often times, passengers will remind her that she is the first Black woman they have ever seen piloting an aircraft.

Photo courtesy of First Officer Charlene Shortte

“It blows me away. For me, I’m already on a trail that’s been blazed. I’m just widening it. Unfortunately, many just don’t know that the trail actually exists.”

Advice to future pilots

First Officer Shortte had a special message to parents with small children who express their desire to fly.

“Indulge that dream in some way and let them know that they can be a pilot. Take them to museums or even look into a discovery flight.”

Photo courtesy of First Officer Charlene Shortte

Here’s what she had to say to all the women out there wanting to fly but feel it’s too late.

“As women, you have the capacity to do so much more and be great at it. Think of aviation for the generations after you. You can be a pilot and your kids and grandkids can end up on payroll with you. There is longevity in this career. Get in and pull your kids, nieces, etc. in too. Take the leap and pass it on to generations to come.”

Travel Noire

DeAnna Taylor

DeAnna Taylor is a criminal defense Attorney turned travel blogger, author, and writer. While Charlotte, NC (her hometown) is her base, she's always somewhere on a plane. Catch her on IG: @brokeandabroadlife.

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