Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Capt. David Harris

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It is with heavy hearts that the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) acknowledges the passing of Retired Captain David E. Harris, a true pioneer and trailblazer in the aviation industry. Dave Harris, born on December 22, 1934, in Columbus, Ohio, not only shattered racial barriers but also paved the way for generations of aspiring pilots of color.

Harris graduated in December 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in education and an Air Force commission. In June 1958 he began his military flight training at Bartow Air Base in Bartow, Florida, where he faced active discrimination off-base. Newly married, he completed the second part of his flight training at Webb Air Force Base in Big Spring, Texas. Once again, he faced legal discrimination that prevented Harris and his wife from living in adequate Air Force-approved housing.

Lt. Harris completed his flight training and received his wings in July 1958. After advanced training at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas, he and his wife Linda moved to Plattsburgh, New York, where he was assigned to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) 380th Bomb Wing, flying co-pilot on the B-47.

Shortly after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Harris began applying to various major airlines in the rapidly expanding commercial airline industry. After initial disappointment and rejection, he was hired by American Airlines in December 1964, becoming the first African American to successfully enter pilot training for a major commercial airline and the first to achieve the esteemed rank of Captain for any major U.S. commercial airline. His journey was one of resilience, determination, and unwavering dedication to his craft.

As a founding member of the Organization of Black Airline Pilots, which later became the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, Captain Harris played an instrumental role in advocating for diversity and inclusion within the aviation sector. He understood the importance of representation and worked tirelessly to diversify the ranks of airline pilots, inspiring and supporting countless individuals along the way.

Despite facing systemic discrimination, Captain Harris never wavered in his pursuit of excellence. His historic achievements are a testament to his remarkable skill, professionalism, and commitment to equality. From piloting various commercial aircraft, including the Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas MD-11, to mentoring aspiring aviators, Dave Harris leaves behind a legacy that will continue to inspire future generations.

The impact of Captain Harris's legacy extends far beyond his pioneering achievements in aviation. He was a beacon of hope and a symbol of progress, reminding us all of the importance of breaking down barriers and forging a path toward a more inclusive future. We are honored to stand on his shoulders.

The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals extends our deepest condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Captain Dave Harris during this difficult time. May his memory, achievements, and legacy inspire and uplift us, as we honor his life through our continued pursuit of diversity, equity, and excellence in the aerospace industry.