Feb. 22 (UPI) -- An E-8C Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System exercise included a 33-person, all-Black flight crew for the first time, the U.S. Air Force said.
U.S. Air Force and Army personnel from the Georgia Air National Guard's 116th Air Control Wing, the active-duty 461st Air Control Wing and the Army's 138th Military Intelligence Company, a group known as Team JSTARS, flew from Robins Air Force Base, Ga., on a training mission on Friday.
Capt. Dewey McRae, who said he'd long attempted to organize a crew such as this, said the opportunity was used to commemorate Black History Month.
"We were always short in a few crew positions," McRae told WMAZ-TV, [but] "this is a dream. This is just an honor and privilege so the folks that will come behind us will see one day that it's OK to dream. It's OK. We see someone that looks like us, especially as you're growing up trying to find your way in life."
The flight was piloted by the first Black female pilot in the Georgia Air National Guard, Capt. Andrea Lewis.
"Being the first African American female pilot in the Georgia Air National Guard is a milestone," Lewis said in a Navy press release.
"I didn't intentionally plan on being in that position, but I am proud to be a part of this. I think back to Bessie Coleman being the first African American female pilot to where we are now. It shows the importance of a flight like this," Lewis said.
Team JSTARS has been deployed since 2002, and uses a modified Boeing 707-300 commercial aircraft as an airborne battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform.
The aircraft is equipped with radar and special communications equipment, notably a 27-foot long, canoe-shaped radome hanging below the fuselage and carrying side-looking phased array antennae.
JSTARS' primary mission involves ground surveillance over land and water.
Many crew members of Friday's landmark flight regard it as inspirational.
"I've met people that said they didn't know there were Black flyers in this community, so showing them, yeah there are," said Senior MSgt. Tanisha Swift. "We can do it, we are doing it and that anyone can do it."