This 23-year-old U.S. pilot is looking to become the first Black woman to fly around the world solo

Leona Serao, who was born in the U.S. but raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, plans to begin her historic three-month journey in August, departing from New York City before stopping in 33 countries in 4 continents to accomplish the feat.

Video transcript

LEONA SERAO: My name is Leona Serao. I'm a 23-year-old commercial pilot, and this summer I'll be attempting to become the first Black and African woman to fly solo around the world.

There's only 5% of women who are commercial pilots, and Black women constitute of a mere of 0.09%, and that's something I want to help change.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: So just taking things a bit back, I know aviation is pretty much embedded in your family. Your father was a pilot. But when did you first take a liking to flying, and why?

LEONA SERAO: I decided to fly whenever my dad passed away. I never really knew that I wanted to fly, but I knew that I wanted to stay in the aviation field. So I was like, why not try to fly? So I applied to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where I found my true passion, which was flying.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: What does it mean for you to be one of so few Black female pilots?

LEONA SERAO: It means a lot to me. And it is a challenge because it's a male-dominated field, and us women didn't really get the opportunity to be-- like, we weren't pilots before. We couldn't even drive before. And in the aviation industry, it kind of stayed like that. And for Black people, as you know, we really struggled throughout, like, the times.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: So when you hear the names of Bessie Coleman, the first licensed Black female pilot in 1921 or Barrington Irving-- he was the first Black pilot to fly around the world solo in 2007, I believe. Like, what comes to mind when you hear those names?

LEONA SERAO: What comes to mind? They are a huge motivation for me. And if they've done it, I'm definitely capable of doing it as well.