United's Paco Sulmers joins Bill Norwood in OBAP Hall of Fame - United Hub
people

Paco Sulmers joins Bill Norwood in OBAP Hall of Fame

By Matt Adams, August 12, 2016

When Captains Bill Norwood and Georges “Paco" Sulmers were starting out as pilots in the 1950s and 60s, they were acutely aware of the fact that doors weren't always open to them as African-Americans. “I was always told 'You have to work twice as hard to get half as far,'" said Bill. Paco echoed that sentiment, describing his search for role models in aviation during that era. “As a youngster, when I watched TV, I would look for pilots with black faces, but there were none."

Bill and Paco hold the designation of being two of the pioneers of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), which marks its 40th anniversary this year. To celebrate that milestone, six early contributors to OBAP, including Paco, were inducted into the OBAP hall of fame at this year's annual convention.

Captain Bill Norwood Captain Bill Norwood

Bill said he owes his interest in aviation to his elementary school principal in Centralia, Illinois, William Harold Walker, who had been a member of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Paco, who emigrated with his family from Haiti in 1957, grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, watching planes coming and going in and out of nearby LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, treasuring the 115 model airplanes he kept at home.

After high school, Bill went on to attend Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, where he got his first opportunity to fly as part of an Air Force reserve officer training program. Upon graduating in 1959, he spent six years in the Air Force and flew B-52 bombers. Paco attended Brooklyn's vocational Aviation High School, earning his pilot's license in 1965. When Bill left the service, flying opportunities for African-Americans were limited, but, in May 1965, Bill joined United. By the time Paco earned his commercial license in 1968, he found a job with Northeast Airlines, and that's when he first began thinking about creating a group to help further the cause of black aviators.

“At that time, there were maybe 25 black airline pilots in the country," Paco said. “We knew that we needed to find a way to help our cause." In the early-1970s Paco joined Eastern Airlines and met fellow pilot Benjamin Thomas. He and Ben soon began talking about the idea of what would soon be known as OBAP.

In 1976 Ben Thomas approached Bill and asked for his help. Sitting in Bill and his wife Molly's kitchen in suburban Chicago, the three wrote the constitution and by-laws for what would become the Organization of Black Airline Pilots (the name was changed to include aerospace professionals in the early 2000s). “The original goal of OBAP was to mentor young African-Americans and get them into the cockpits," said Bill. “We wanted to help them get in the door of the big airlines." Bill, Paco, Ben and their colleagues vetted young pilots, making sure that each whom they recommended for hire to a major airline was going to represent what OBAP stood for. Paco said, “We wanted to attract the best and be the best."

Captain Paco Sulmers induction into the OBAP Hall of FameCaptain Georges "Paco" Sulmers induction into the OBAP Hall of Fame

The first OBAP convention was held at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in 1976. “In those early years, Tuskegee Airmen veterans wrote letters to all the airlines on our behalf, imploring them to come to the conventions," Paco said. Senior airline management started showing up to recruit talent, and United was one of the first to sponsor an OBAP scholarship for pilots interested in pursuing new type ratings for commercial flying.

After all these years, both Bill and Paco can look back and see progress. Paco said, “We've conquered the cockpit; now we're encouraging people to move on to other horizons, show them that they can become chief pilots, things like that."

Bill is still active when it comes to opening doors for African-American youngsters who are interested in flying, volunteering at ACE Academies around the country, an organization started by OBAP to give teens the opportunity to experience aviation careers. He published his memoir, Cleared for Takeoff: A Story of Challenges and Triumph, to share his story of inspiration. Paco is still involved with OBAP mentorship and attended this year's convention, which had a record number of attendees. “When I go to these conventions, I just think, 'This is great — it used to be just a few of us, the same guys from the beginning. Now, I don't recognize everyone because there are so many new faces.'"

United Cargo operates more than 11,000 cargo-only flights in one year

By The Hub team, March 19, 2021

On March 19, 2020, United operated its first flight carrying cargo without passengers on board. While the passenger cabin was empty, its cargo hold was completely full, carrying more than 29,000 pounds of commodities from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).

A year later, United Cargo has operated more than 11,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 570 million pounds of freight. To support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, United Cargo has also transported more than 113 million pounds of medical and pharmaceutical products on both cargo-only and passenger flights as well as approximately 10 million COVID-19 vaccines, providing global communities access to the items they have needed most.

10 tips for spring travel

By The Hub team, February 24, 2021

Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your spring trip, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive at the airport travel-ready:

1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, travel assistance and more

Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check.

Don't forget to use Agent on Demand for help with any and all questions you may have before your flight. This new capability is available at all our U.S. hub airports and allows you to use your own mobile device to contact a customer service agent via phone, video or chat to help with day-of-travel questions while you're at the airport. Learn more about Agent on Demand here.

United joins UNICEF COVAX initiative

By The Hub team, February 19, 2021

This week, we were honored to become the first U.S. airline to join the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by transporting the vaccine and other critically needed supplies to underserved areas of the globe.

"We are committed to helping the global community in any way we can, and we all must work together to do our part to bring this health and humanitarian crisis to an end," said Director of Cargo Specialty Products Manu Jacobs.

We will leverage our expertise to transport these critical pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments around the world safely, efficiently and expediently. We are proud to partner with the United Nations to support this global effort and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Scroll to top