Five African American Pilots Share Their Experiences <


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Five African American Pilots Share Their Experiences

By Mike Mitchell

Jan. 30, 2010--The Museum of Flight commemorates Black History Month with a February 6 panel discussion with current Air Force and Alaska Airline pilots. Moderated by Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Col. Bill Holloman III (ret.)

The program is at 2 p.m. in the William M. Allen Theater. Panelists will be available for autographs following the presentation. Books about African American pilots and astronauts, as well as other memorabilia, will be available for purchase in the Museum Store. 

The moderator for the panel, Lt. Col. Bill Holloman III (ret.) flew "Red Tail" P-51s with the 332nd Fighter Group in World War II--the famed Tuskegee Airmen. He continued flying during the Korean War and Vietnam, and he was the first black helicopter pilot in the Air Force. 

The panel will include Alaska Airlines pilot Capt. Mike Swanigan, a Kenmore, Wash. resident who currently flies 737s for the airline; Seattle resident and Alaska Airline pilot Mike Hendrix; Lt. Col. Kimberly Scott, an Alaska Airlines pilot and  U.S. Air Force Reserve C-17 pilot for the 728th Airlift Squadron; Lt. Col. Rod Lewis, commander of the C-17 squadron at McChord Air Force Base, Wash.; and Maj. Gen. Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, an Alaska Airlines and U.S. Air Force pilot who is now assigned to the Pentagon.

Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Bill Holloman III (ret.) as a pilot with the 332nd Fighter Group in World War II, photo courtesy of Bill Holloman and The Museum of Flight.


Maj. Gen. Mitchell is Deputy Inspector General of the Air Force, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Washington, D.C. A graduate of South Carolina State University, Maj. Gen. Mitchell served with the U.S. Marine Corps flying the KC-130 Hercules. He joined the Air Force Reserve in 1983 as a traditional Reservist assigned to the 728th Airlift Squadron, which he later commanded. He also served as vice commander of the 446 Airlift Wing and the 4th Air Force and has more than 25 years experience as a commercial pilot. 

Lt. Col. Rodney Lewis is currently assigned to the 62d Airlift Wing, McChord Air Force Base, Wash.  As the Commander of the 4th Airlift Squadron, he is responsible for the Air Force's only Prime Nuclear Airlift Force.  Prior to his assignment he was the Chief of Safety, responsible for safety programs impacting more than 4,600 active-duty military and civilian personnel. 


Col. Lewis was born in Oklahoma City, Okla. He earned his commission in 1991 upon graduation from the United States Air Force Academy. A command pilot with over 3,400 flying hours, principally in the C-17A Globemaster III aircraft, Col. Lewis served in operations from Bosnia to Iraq, accumulating combat time in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. As a C-17A instructor pilot, he commands and instructs combat-ready aircrews in various mission scenarios to include Antarctic Flight Operations.

Activated in 1935, the 4th Airlift Squadron is the oldest active airlift squadron in the Air Force.  As the sole operator of Air Mobility Command's Prime Nuclear Airlift Force, the 4th routinely handles the nation's most sensitive cargo, as well as providing tactically qualified C-17A crews who stand ready to airdrop combat troops and supplies anywhere in the world. 

Lt. Col. Kimberly Scott is a 737 first officer with Alaska Airlines based in Seattle, Wash. She is an officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and a member of the 446th Airlift Wing, McChord Air Force Base, Wash. Scott flies the C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft. As a command pilot, she has flown over 6000 hours in the C-17 and the KC-135 Stratotanker in support of combat operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Lt. Col. Scott is a 1990 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. and has served at total of 19 years in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Air Force Reserve.

Mike Swanigan is a veteran Captain for Alaska Airlines. He has been with the company for 24 years and he flies the Boeing 737 on Alaska's routes, serves as a Instructor/Check Pilot and provides training and certification for Alaska's other pilots. Swanigan was Alaska Airlines Chief Pilot from 1993 to 1995 and he was Vice President/ Flight Operations from 1995-2000. Swanigan also hosts "Good Time Golf" on Fox Sports Northwest, a program highlighting affordable Golf vacations. 

Swanigan served for eight years on the University of Washington/Bothell Advisory Board. He was Chairman of the Board for the 2002-2003 academic year. He often visits local schools and delivers motivational speeches aimed at getting children to rise to their potential. Swanigan and his family reside in Kenmore. 

Mike Hendrix took a different path in his career as a pilot for Alaska Airlines. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration from the University of Washington in 1980, he became a marketing representative for IBM in Seattle. Eight years later he joined Lotus Development Corp. in Bellevue as the National Account Manager until 1995. At this point Hendrix decided to change his career. In 1996 he enrolled in the Comair Aviation Academy in Sanford, Fla., as a student pilot. A year later he had several Commercial and Flight Instructor ratings and managed the Instrument and Commercial training sections of the Academy, which consisted of 20-30 flight instructors and 120-140 students. Hendrix became a First Officer for Comair Airlines, Cincinnati, Ohio from 1998 - 2000. In 2000 he moved to Alaska Airlines in Seattle, and is currently a First Officer for the airline, flying MD-80s and 737s. 

The non-profit Museum of Flight is one of the largest independent air and space museums in the world. The Museum's collection includes more than 150 historically significant air- and spacecraft, as well as the William E. Boeing Red Barn -- the original manufacturing facility of the Boeing Co. The J. Elroy McCaw Personal Courage Wing displays 28 World War I and World War II aircraft from the United States and other countries including Germany, Russia, and Japan. Over 30 aircraft representing the first century of aviation are displayed in the all-glass T.A. Wilson Great Gallery. The evolution of space flight and a look into the future are presented in the exhibit, Space: Exploring the New Frontier.

The Airpark includes outdoor displays including the first jet Air Force One, a supersonic Concorde airliner and the prototype Boeing 747 jumbo jet. Interactive displays in The Flight Zone provide educational and entertaining activities for young children. The Museum's aeronautical library and archival holdings are the largest on the West Coast. More than 140,000 students are served annually by the Museum's on-site and outreach educational programs--the most extensive museum-based youth aviation and space education program in the country. The Museum is the only air and space museum in Washington State that is both nationally accredited with the American Association of Museums and a Smithsonian affiliate. 

The Museum of Flight is located at 9404 E. Marginal Way S., Seattle, Exit 158 off Interstate 5 on Boeing Field half-way between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport. The Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors 65 and older, $10 for active military, $8 for youth 5 to 17, and free for children under 5. Group rates are available. Admission on the first Thursday of the month is free from 5 to 9 p.m. courtesy of Wells Fargo. For general Museum information, please call 206-764-5720 or visit

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