By the time she was in fourth grade, young Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell knew she wanted to be a fighter pilot. What the now-Air Force major didn’t know, however, was that she would knock down a racial barrier by becoming the first female African American fighter pilot. Kimbrell (1976) was born to Guyanese parents. Her mother and father, who were naturalized U.S. citizens by the time she was born,movedto the U.S.for education and opportunities. While in kindergarten,for example, she decided she wanted to be an astronaut, so she wrote a letter to NASA asking how she could join the program. But as she got older and did more research into joining the astronaut corps, she realized the career wasn’t as exciting as she wanted it to be.While Kimbrell remained fascinated with space, the freedom of flight is what she really wanted: aerial acrobatics, rolling inverted and more.With that goal in mind, she found every opportunity get closer to the flying world and the military. She joined the Civil Air Patrol, worked at air shows and earned her private pilot’s license. Eventually, she was accepted into the Air Force Academy. She did all of this despite people telling her as a child that there were no female fighter pilots, people asking her about all the what-ifs that would derail her plans.imbrell graduated from the Academy in 1998 and was accepted into pilot training. She earned her pilot wings in August 1999. She has earned an Air Medal with one device, an Aerial Achievement Medal and an Army Commendation Medal, among others. She is a major in the US Air Force, flies a F-16 Fighting Falcon, and is stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy.
This is part of a series I did for S4 Foundation during Women’s History Month.