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Opening Cockpit Doors

by John M. White |

Its 1957 and a young Captain by the name of Marlon D. Green was leaving the US Air Force after accumulating 3,071 hours in multi-engine bombers and cargo aircraft. Having resigned from the Air Force, Green applied to no fewer than 10 U.S. Air Carriers for a position as a pilot. As he waited for the replies they came, one after another, all declinations.


Oh, the airlines were hiring alright, and there were plenty of openings for pilots back then. The airlines were expanding, and qualified pilots were not easy to come by, particularly with the kind of time the airlines needed as they moved into larger and more complex equipment. But Green would not be hired.
You see, Marlon D. Green was an African American pilot.


Finally Green applied to Continental Airlines in Denver, CO, leaving the section of the application form which asked "racial identity" blank, and deliberately did not send the required two photographs.


He was promptly sent for for flight tests, and despite he had more flight time that the other five applicants hired at the same time, no job offer was forthcoming. In response, Green filed a complaint under Colorado's anti-discrimination law and Continental fought the case. Marlon D. Green, first African American commercial airline pilot


As the case moved through the courts Green worked as a pilot for the Michigan highway department but quit, blaming inadequate bad weather navigational equipment in the states aircraft. To support his white wife and children he got a job cleaning milk cans in a dairy.


The Colorado Supreme Court ruled against Green, but in May of 1963 the United States Supreme Court unanimously overturned the Colorado Supreme Court ruling, paving the way for Green to become the first African American commercial airline pilot in the United States.


In January of 1966 Green finally became a first office for Continental, and went on to captain Boeing 707 aircraft until his retirement from Continental in 1978. Last July he passed away at the age of 80.


The Houston Chronicle says the honour is the first time Continental has publicly acknowledged Green's contribution. Jeff Smisek, Continental's chairman, president and CEO said: "The fact that we did this shows how regretful we are about our history, and we took the opportunity to honor Captain Green because it's important to us."


The idea to name an aircraft after Green originated from Continental Captain Ray-Sean Silvera. At the same ceremony Silvera was appointed assistant chief pilot for Continental. Silvera becomes the first African-American pilot to hold the post at Continental. Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7

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