Meet the Denver woman who is the first African-American female airline captain

Posted at 5:26 PM, Mar 15, 2017

DENVER -- A Denver airline pilot is breaking barriers and the glass ceiling as the first female African-American captain for a major U.S. carrier.

Captain M'Lis Ward is based in Denver, flying the Airbus A320 for United Airlines.  She hopes generations of young women will follow her flight path at a time when the industry faces a pilot shortage.

"Every now and then you'll see some little girl come up to you or their parents -; ‘Look, she's a pilot.’ That kind of makes me proud," said Ward.

Her confidence in the cockpit comes in part from her mother.

"My mom was the first black woman to graduate the University of Chicago medical school," said Ward.  "When you see a mom can accomplish something like that, you think I can do anything."

She was also part of a championship basketball team at the University of Southern California.

"You kind of get used to winning, and then you feel like I'm going to win at everything I do," she said.

Ward was in the ROTC while in college. After a flight as a student, she was hooked and started to break barriers.

"When you put on a flight suit, they're like, ‘Why are you in a flight suit?’ And I'm like, ‘I'm going to pilot training here.’ And they're like, ‘We've never seen a black woman pilot here.’"

Perseverance is one of her pillars, and it eventually led to her getting hired at United after flying for the military.

"Anytime a woman works in a predominantly-male career field, I think it's challenging. Because you want to fit in and be accepting, you want to be one of the guys, but you don't want to lose yourself in the process," Ward said.

"My first ride on United, I flew with a captain who was about to retire in a week. He had never flown with a woman pilot. He was so thrilled. He took me out to dinner and just talked the whole time about flying: ‘This is the first time I've ever talked to a woman about flying; this is the most exciting thing in the world.’"

Captain Ward is also a mother and wants the next generation to know what's possible.

"It's about giving kids an opportunity to see every opportunity that's out there for them and take the one that fits best," she said.


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