Taking Women’s History Month by flight, Lt.Col. Merryl Tengesdal is the first African-American woman who is qualified to fly the U-2 Dragon Lady plane. Known as the hardest aircraft to fly, Tengesdal has overcome the odds to make history. Growing up in the inner-city where drugs and crime was rampant, Tengesdal pursued her undergraduate education at University Of New Haven, graduating in 1994 with a degree in Electrical Engineering.
The University Of New Haven reports after graduating, Tengesdal took a four-day bus trip to San Diego in order to take the test to become a Navy pilot. She was also one out of five African-American women candidates to the pilot program. Afterward she became an instructor and then transition into the Air Force flying the U-2 aircraft that is used for reconnaissance missions.
Tengesdal said of her Navy pilot school experience, “During the mid-90s, the military had just begun opening more roles for women in combat. Combat pilot was one of the opportunities. There was also a massive push for more minorities into the pilot training program. I remember when I attended flight training, it was racially diverse, which I was surprised to see. It was a good feeling. However, I could tell there were a few people who did not appreciate us.”
Despite the prejudice, Tengesdal has flown 3,400 flight hours, including over 330 combat hours.
In 2004, Tengesdal entered the U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane program; by 2005 she passed the U-2 conversion syllabus and started to fly in combat missions. In the midst of becoming proficient at her craft, Tengesdal received her Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Science.
Since then, Tengesdal served in the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), was the 9th Reconnaissance Wing Inspector General and was recently promoted to the rank of Colonel.
We’re proud of you Lieutenant Colonel Tengesdal!