Enshrined November 12, 2011
Bill Wilkerson’s early interest in becoming a pilot was seeded by a book in his family’s home entitled “Library of Universal Knowledge”. The book contained an illustrated section about flying a plane. He and his younger brother often pretended to fly together, using those illustrations as a guide. In Junior High School, he did a career project on becoming a pilot and organized a neighborhood model aircraft flying club.
At age 16, Bill took his first flying lesson at Knoxville’s Powell Airport. The expense of flying lessons and a lack of family support for something so “dangerous” were early obstacles but he soloed November 27, 1964, soon after his 18th birthday, before he even had a driver’s license. Wilkerson enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1966 and earned his Private, Commercial, Instrument, Multi-engine and Flight Instructor ratings while stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona and then became Chief Flight Instructor at the Davis-Monthan Aero Club. He completed his service in the USAF in 1970, and later returned to Knoxville, and became the Chief Flight Instructor at Powell Airport, where he first learned to fly.
Bill’s dream job came in 1974 when he was hired by Piedmont Airlines. In 1980, he became only the second African-American to earn the rank of Captain with the airline. Piedmont merged with USAir in 1989. Captain Wilkerson flew the YS-11, Boeing 727, 737, 757, and 767. In 1996 he was promoted to Flight Manager of the Boeing 737-300/400 program, the largest fleet at USAir, with responsibility for over 155 aircraft and the training of more than 1,800 pilots. During the last two and one-half years of his airline career with USAirways, Captain Wilkerson flew the Airbus 330 to European destinations, retiring in November 2006 after a 32-year career as an airline pilot, his boyhood dream fulfilled. Bill Wilkerson continues to Share his love for flying and his many years of experience with General Aviation pilots and student pilots as an FAA Safety Counselor, lecturer and flight simulation advocate to improve flight proficiency and flight safety. In January 2011, he was honored as North Carolina’s Flight Instructor of the Year.
To learn more, visit: www.tnairmuseum.com