Thunderbirds officer makes aviation history

By Gord McNulty

T12 Capt Nelsonhe sky is the limit for the first Black woman to become an officer in the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team.

Captain Remoshay Nelson serves as an inspiring role model for many Black youth in the tradition exemplified by the Tuskegee Airmen of the Second World War.  

The articulate and thoughtful Nelson, Public Affairs Officer for the Thunderbirds, overcame “very humble beginnings” in Georgia. She and her siblings were raised for a time by a young single-parent mother who did her best in a low-income household.

As a child, she loved to sit by a tree near her house in Douglasville, GA, and watch the planes flying to and from Atlanta’s nearby Hartfield Airport.

“I was always curious about where they were going,” she recalled in an interview at London, Ontario, where the Thunderbirds were featured in a socially distanced, drive-in air show Sept. 12-13.

Nelson’s stepfather, who served in the navy, would tell her about “all the amazing places you could go if you joined the military.” She chose the air force, loved science and engineering and obtained a scholarship at Howard University in Washington.

Nelson thrived on meeting the challenges of the major push for student excellence” at Howard, aiming high in various leadership and training activities. Attending the historically Black university was “by far the best decision I ever made in my life.”

The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a community service organization established by 22 collegiate women at Howard in 1913, also helped to build her self-confidence.    

Trailblazing women and men who have advanced the cause of Black people are uplifting for Nelson. She cites legends such as Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) the first African-American woman to become a pilot and celebrated early aviation pioneer; the Tuskegee Airmen; and the Buffalo Soldiers all-Black regiments of the U.S. Army.

“These are people who have paved the way to overcome some tough circumstances, going into a field to overcome obstacles of race and gender. Not only did they meet expectations, but they proved people wrong by exceeding expectations,” Nelson said.

“It’s definitely an honour to stand on the shoulders of giants like this.”

Nelson has visited no fewer than 43 countries in eight years with the U.S. Air Force. Her assignments included a stint as chief of public affairs for the 8th Fighter Wing in Kusan, South Korea before she joined the Thunderbirds in September, 2019.  Only 332 officers have served on the team since its inception in 1953.

Nelson enjoyed the Thunderbirds’ contribution to raising spirits in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Multi-city flyovers were held in tribute to first responders as the Thunderbirds partnered in formation with the U.S. Blue Angels team.

“We were really honored to do flyovers as a salute to the people who we saw as heroes working extremely hard on our behalf,” said Nelson, enjoying her first season as Thunderbird No. 12.

She is a fine ambassador for the Thunderbirds, representing the team with the aplomb shown by the late Capt. Jenn Casey, the Snowbirds Public Affairs Officer.   We extend best wishes to Capt. Nelson.