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Edward Dwight, Jr.

Ed Dwight, Jr.Born: September 9, 1933, Kansas City, Kansas. 

As a child growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, Edward Dwight, Jr., loved building toy airplanes. He sketched the airplanes he saw at the Kansas City Fairfax assembly plant, closely studying landings and take-offs. He had an interest in pursuing mechanics and was surprised to see a Black pilot featured in the local newspaper.

As a Black person, he hadn’t realized that was an option for him. Dwight earned an associate degree in engineering at Kansas City Junior College. He then wrote to the Pentagon to apply to become a pilot. He passed the pilot tests and joined the U.S. Air Force in 1953. Upon completing airman and cadet pre-flight, and flight training, he was promoted to second lieutenant. He was sent to Arizona where he became a test pilot and earned a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering. He continued doing coursework in experimental test piloting and aerospace research at Edwards Air Force Base and was ultimately promoted to captain. Dwight completed more than 9,000 hours of flight time, 2,000 of those in high-performance jets. In 1961 Dwight was selected to be the first African American astronaut trainee, one of 26 in the class. He received much media attention for the selection and proceeded to phase II—aerospace research pilot school. During his training, he only observed two other Black men in the industry—a draftsman and a project manager for another company.

During Dwight's time in the Air Force, he learned to fly some of the most advanced aircraft of the era. He helped develop technical manuals and train other pilots on aircraft instrumentation. Because of his color, he was not eligible to be a squad leader. He spent four years training to be an astronaut. Unfortunately, Dwight was not selected by NASA to be an astronaut. He retired from the Air Force in 1966.

After his retirement, Dwight worked in various occupations including as an engineer. He then found an interest in sculpting and studied to operate a metal casting foundry. He has since created more than 70 bronze sculptures that highlight Black history. He created a bronze sculpture for the Texas capitol grounds honoring state heroes including Bernard Harris, the first Black astronaut to walk in space. His work also includes a sculpture for Black Airplane Pilots, Tuskegee Airmen, and William Smith, former director of the Denver airport.

Dwight has received numerous honors for his sculptures, comprising more than 128 public art, large-scale memorials and 18,000 gallery pieces. Other honors include honorary doctorates and living legend awards for achievements and contributions to diversity. Dwight was a trailblazer who inspired future generations to continue the work to diversify the U.S. space program. His fascination with space continued throughout his life.

Entry: Dwight, Jr., Edward

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2022

Date Modified: February 2023

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.