Andrea Lewis said that, as a pilot, her favorite part of flying is actually putting the aircraft back on the ground.
“I love just being able to travel,” Lewis said. “Basically with the Georgia Air National Guard I've been able to travel around the world in this jet.”
Soon, 1st Lt. Andrea Lewis will add an active duty deployment to her travels. When that happens, she will be the first African American woman to deploy with the Georgia Air National Guard.
By “this jet,” Lewis means the repurposed Boeing 737. In the configuration in which she flies it, the aircraft is the aerial surveillance, battlefield monitoring and command and control platform for the U.S. Air Force Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS, program based at Robins Air Force base in central Georgia. The JSTARS have been a fixture of wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Lewis will deploy, in Air Force parlance, to Southwest Asia.
Lewis said she was inspired to fly by her father who was a career pilot with American Airlines. Most pilots start flying in their teens, but Lewis, 31, only started flying in her twenties when she was already well into a career as a Delta Airlines flight attendant.
“That's when my dad had actually passed away, at the end of 2010,” Lewis said. He was a pilot. “So I started flying to feel closer to him I guess.”
Sharon Pierrie Scott is Lewis’ mother and, like Lewis, is a Delta Air Lines flight attendant. Scott said Lewis was very close to her father. When he died unexpectedly from complications from diabetes, Scott said her daughter took the loss very hard before converting her grief into a sense of purpose and new direction for her life.
“She dug deeper and realized those type of things happen in life,” Scott said. “And you can take it and turn it into something positive.”
Scott said she takes a measure of pride in her daughter’s resilience.
“When you raise children you just want them to be good people and you want them to be some help to make a difference,’ Scott said. “And if that happens to turn into something like this I mean that's wonderful.”
Lewis has advice for aspiring pilots who may look at something the size of what Lewis flies and think there’s no way they could get there.
“Start small. A Cessna or something,” Lewis said. “See how that goes. If you keep flying just little bit at a time I think you'll eventually get to where you want.”
That’s advice that probably works outside of aviation, too.