Female Jamaican ‘Top Gun’ takes flight

First Officer Deon Byme.
Photo courtesy of hemispheresmagazine.com

When 13-year-old Deon Byme moved from Jamaica to live here, she aimed high.

Her mother told her that if she applied herself, the sky would be limit.

Like a great many migrant youths to New York City, the teenager wanted to make her mother proud. She aspired to be a doctor.

She studied diligently and consistently.

As a matter of fact some of her school mates resented her being too invested in her studies and isolated her from the crowd.

“I was into school and studying, and I was the outcast,” Byme told hemis‌phere‌smaga‌zine.com United Airlines web portal.

She said because she was “from a little island, Jamaica,” and now living in “the big bad city of New York,” she had to find her own way and would not be influenced by peer pressure.

Her ambition to the medical profession remained foremost to studies but mostly, she was determined to succeed.

According to the ambitious immigrant, a movie which starred Tom Cruise affected her in a way she never imagined.

It was “Top Gun” a film that featured adventures of Air Force pilots. As fate would have it, soon after seeing the Hollywood presentation she met a military recruiter who tried to entice her into joining the flight branch of service.

Almost routinely, each new semester year she attended a career exhibition. Out of the blue, the opportunity of her life met her when a specialist in military aviation encouraged her to enlist.

“I was pre-med at St. John’s University in New York,” she explained.

“Is there any way I can be a doctor and fly?” she asked.

Although she had heard a discouraging answer each spring she returned to the job-seeking venue and each time continued to inquire about pursuing a double career.

“And they told me ‘no’ every time.”

She studied for a semester at American University of Rome and completed college ahead of schedule.

Despite the fact she had successfully finished with medical school, there was a yearning to fly and also a longing to travel.

She took a job as a flight attendant to pay for flying school.

“The company I worked for did a lot of charters for other airlines and U.S. military,” Byme said. “Whenever there was a hot spot in the world, that carrier would either transport troops or transport refugees. I flew around the world twice by the age of 21 or 22. It was a pretty neat experience.”

It seemed an ideal job.

She was seeing the world, flying and enjoying her life.

No sooner than when she earned her airline transport pilot license to fly commercial jets, she applied to both the Air National Guard and a commuter airline.

Both accepted her application.

Byme flew for the airline while waiting for a security clearance from the Air Force.

“I believe I am the only Black female pilot to have flown in Antarctica,” she stated. “While based there, I flew several missions to the South Pole. I literally have been on every continent.” She spent two years on active duty.

After active duty, Byrne served in the New York Air National Guard and got hired by United Airlines.

When she started at United, “People weren’t used to having a lot of women, much less a minority woman, as I was the number-two Black female pilot in the company.”

“There are not a lot of women that I know of doing this,” Byrne said.

According to the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) “in 1986, United Airlines had fewer than 35 Black pilots. Today they employ over 260, including eight African-American females. In an effort to augment the dwindling military supply of pilots, OBAP President M. Perry Jones played a key role during 1992-93 in encouraging the U.S. Congress to fund a study to evaluate the nation’s supply, demand, and production capacity for airline pilots beyond the year 2000, and the possible advantages of establishing a national aviation training facility at a historically Black institution.”

“When I used to fly commuters, because I have a younger-looking face than my age, I got comments like, ‘God help us.’ But nowadays, people feel proud.”

“Every time I showed up, I was always on time, and I was always prepared,” she reflected on her early years in the career field.

Nine years later at United Airlines, Pilot First Officer Deon Byrne has built a reputation among her colleagues and throughout the company, “People knew what I could do; they would say things like, ‘Oh you’re flying with Deon. She does nice landings.”

“I was one of the first all-female 787 flight crews,” to pilot the Dreamliner. “It’s one of the most high-tech airplanes, and we were flying it. I had beaucoup customers who were very glad to see us. We did a great job.”

Flying the 787 is her dream assignment.

“It brings a smile to my face every time I step into that cockpit.”

“And customers are excited. People will cut through Houston just to ride on the 787. It’s one of the fastest airplanes out there. We cruise really high. Someone takes off before us, and we’ll pass them over the Atlantic. I love this airplane.”

Byrne believes in paying forward and readily subscribes to the notion of mentoring. Because she admits that she was helped along her journey. For all the help and guidance she received, Byme is determined to give back while flying high. And for this smooth operator, the sky is the limit.

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