Since its inception there have been approximately 1000 U2 aircraft pilots. Of those 1000 pilots, only six are women. And of those six only one is black. Lt. Col. Merryl Tengesdal is that one pilot and she is currently stationed at Beale AFB.
Though breaking many stereotypes to get to where she is now, Lt. Col Tengesdal humbly says that was never a focus of her work. From a young age Tengesdal had her eyes on going to space.
In order to get to space, Tengesdal put a plan place.
The Colonel says that growing up in the Bronx was all part of the experience that has helped mold her into the leader she has become.
Tengesdal jokes that TV, as well as healthy curiosity about how things worked, played an influential role in her choice of a career.
Tengesdal gives credit to people around her for helping her get to where she is.
The Colonel went to college at New Haven University, CT and upon graduating was looking for a career in the military as a stepping stone to NASA. Initially, Tengesdal passed on the Air Force and chose to enter the Navy where she became a helicopter pilot eventually becoming a flight instructor.
Then after 10 years and reaching the rank of Lieutenant, she decided to change branches of the military.
In the second part of Lt Col. Merryl Tengesdal’s story, she talks about her experiences in the military and how she became the first female black pilot of the U2 Dragon Lady aircraft.
Only one pilot in the history of the elite U2 Dragon Lady reconnaissance aircraft is a black female. Lt. Col. Merryl Tengesdal is that one pilot and she is currently stationed at Beale AFB. KNCO had an opportunity to speak with Tengesdal and learned about her experiences that guided her to her historic role. After growing up in the Bronx, Merryl Tengesdal graduated from New Haven University in CT in 1994 with an eye on the military. At that point she looked into joining the air force but ultimately selected the Navy. The next step was becoming a pilot a process she initially was told could not happen.
Fortunately her boyfriend at the time was in the Navy and put her in contact with a recruiting district which is responsible for recruiting pilots in San Diego.
Tengesdal took a four-day bus ride across the country and took the test and passed. For the next 10 years she flew for the Navy.
The Colonel says that going through flight school is when she did experience some prejudiced behavior.
Tengesdal says there was only one time where she specifically felt like a target.
Tengesdal says her upbringing in a diverse community prepared her to overcome conflict, and also enabled her to separate performance and personalities.
After 10 successful years flying with the Navy, Merryl Tengesdal decided to take a different path towards outer-space and literally jump shipped transferring to the Air Force and the U2 Dragon Lady. More on Lt. Col. Tengesdal during the next news cast.
It’s a unique experience to be “one of a kind”… but it doesn’t necessarily define a person. Lt. Col. Merryl Tengesdal is the only black female U2 pilot in history. She is currently stationed at Beale AFB and took time to talk about how she followed a childhood dream of becoming an astronaut to arrive as a pilot on the elite U2 reconnaissance plane…the highest flying aircraft in the world.
Tengesdal grew up and went to school in the Bronx, attended college in Connecticut, and eventually entered the military to become a pilot hoping someday to join NASA.
Along the way, the Colonel had strong family support and mentors that kept her on track.
Tengesdal graduated college with an electrical engineering degree and joined the navy where she became a pilot and flew helicopters. She also became a flight instructor. In 2004 she decided to chase her dream of space again… and jumped from the Navy to the Air Force and the U2. However, when she applied for an inter-service transfer to the Air Force she received conflicting responses.
Tengesdal then joined the Air Force and became part of the U2 Community at Beale AFB.
Lt Col Merryl Tengesdal says that NASA is not necessarily the goal anymore… she jokes she has flown as high as she will go…and takes a lot of ribbing for telling this story.
Tengesdal has recently been selected to be promoted to the rank of Colonel.
Lt Colonel Tengesdal is a guest with Tom Fitzsimmons on KNCO Insight: Nevada county Action from 1:05 til 2 PM Wednesday.