days, Michael J. Fowlkes 81 is flying high. He is living
out his childhood dream in the skies as a DC-8 pilot with United
Parcel Service. But becoming a pilot didnt happen overnight.
Soon after graduating with a business degree from Rowan in 1981,
Fowlkes realized he wanted more than a career as an accountant.
I wanted to see the world, he said. He decided to become
a pilotsomething he had dreamed of as a young boy watching
planes at the Atlantic City airport.
As an undergraduate, Fowlkes showed that same determination to excel.
He was a member of Gamma Tau Sigma Honor Society, president of the
Bureau of Greek Organizations and Mr. Black Glassboro State College
From audits to altimeters
In 1984, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, even though he knew flying
was among the hardest jobs in the Marines. He also knew that there
were few black pilots in the Marines. If I was going to go
for it, lets go for it all, he said. So I went
On his way to flight school in Pensacola, Fla., Fowlkes made a detour
to Tuskegee, Ala., where he met Charles Anderson, whose 40-minute
flight with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941 led to the training
of the first black military pilots. Anderson, who was the chief
flight instructor and mentor of the famed black pilots known as
the Tuskegee Airmen, gave Fowlkes a flying lesson in his Cessna.
It was an unforgettable experience that motivated Fowlkes even more
to beat the odds and become a pilot. Its a memory Ill
never forget, he said. From then on, I knew I could
Fowlkes earned his military wings in January 1987. During the next
11 years, Fowlkes piloted CH-53 helicopters and was deployed to
Japan, Korea, the Philippines and the Persian Gulf during Desert
Storm. After flying helicopters for five years, Fowlkes moved on
to teaching as a fixed wing flight instructor, taking to the skies
with students in a two-seater aircraft.
When the military began downsizing in 1994, Fowlkes left the Marines
as a captain after accumulating 2,500 flying hours. The following
year he joined a U.S. Air Force Special operations reserve squadron
to fly C-130 cargo planes.
Cleared for take-off
With his military training, Fowlkes was hired as a pilot by Louisville,
Ky.-based UPS in 1996. Currently a second officer (or flight engineer),
he is nearly halfway toward his ultimate goal of becoming a captain,
which typically takes about seven years to accomplish.
In the cockpit, Fowlkes prepares the aircraft for takeoff, checks
the controls and monitors them during flight. He usually works a
week, flying the Chicago to Dallas route or the Atlanta to Philadelphia
trek and then is off a week.
When time permits, he speaks to schoolchildren about aviation careers
and is active with the Organization of Black Airline Pilots and
the Chappie James Chapter of Negro Airmen International. He has
also co-chaired a week-long summer aviation summit for underprivileged
youngsters. He lives in Pensacola with his wife Gloria Koon Fowlkes
84 and their two children, Jasmine, 11 and Justin, 7.
When I went to Rowan and majored in accounting I never thought
I would end up being a pilot, Fowlkes admitted. Now
that I am, I love it. Ive flown all over the worldJapan,
Singapore, Puerto Rico, Europe, Hawaii, England and Korea. This
is a dream, he added. People pay to do what I get paid