Makeda Dawson with her father, Avery Dawson. Photo by Amy Roberts.
This fall Makeda Dawson will begin her junior year in college, yet already people are hailing her with the title she has aspired to since 8th grade—“Pilot!”
Makeda, who attends Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, deserves the title. She is perhaps the first and youngest female St. Johnian to earn her private pilot’s license.
She completed 93 hours with an instructor to qualify for the first of many licenses she intends to earn in her quest to become a commercial pilot. She is now allowed to fly friends and family without charge in a single engine planes, like the Cessna 172, as long as she stays about a thousand feet away from clouds.
To fly in low visibility circumstances, Makeda will need to pass her instrument rating exam, something she plans to do this year. By the time she graduates in 2019, she expects to have all the requirements, if not the hours, to become a commercial pilot.
Ultimately, Makeda’s goal is to fly “the triple 7’s”—the Boeing 777 planes now used for long-haul flights. The prospect of traveling excites her. “I love to be at airports,” she said.
She said her first time flying in the pilot’s seat felt “surreal” but she’s gained confidence. “You have to be focused and vigilant, especially during takeoffs, landings, and other maneuvers.”
Although she has yet to fly a plane in the Virgin Islands, Makeda has racked up her hours at Daytona Beach, the third busiest airport in Florida. “When I get my flight instructor’s license, I’d like to stay and work for the school. I plan to stay in Florida—there are more opportunities there—and work for a major airline,” she said.
A graduate of the Gifft Hill School in 2015, Makeda knew since 8th grade that she wanted to become a pilot. She set her mind and heart on attending Embry-Riddle, a university that allows students to obtain their commercial pilot’s licenses while earning a college degree.
She says her courses in physics, calculus, and writing at Gifft Hill School prepared her well for college. “You have to go very deep into physics for aviation,” she said, “and you need good writing skills for technical reports.”
Makeda is not the only Virgin Islander in Daytona Beach who is taking classes at Embry-Riddle. She knows two others from St. Croix and two from St. Thomas.
For this summer at least, Makeda is back on St. John, working as a server at the Fish Trap, something she’s done for a number of years, and hoping to also to get a job through the Department of Labor’s Summer Youth Program.
“I’m very proud of her,” said Lew Sewer, a cousin who greeted her as “Pilot” when he passed her recently at the Marketplace on St. John. “I’ve known her since she was a little girl,” he said, and turning toward her added, “I hope you’re the role model for other young ladies.”
Inspiring St. John youths to consider careers in aviation is part of her plans. “I want to do something to get St. John youths involved, maybe hold a paper plane competition,” she said.
Makeda can start with her six younger siblings, Genesis Dawson (who will graduate from GHS this year), Chenijah Dawson, Zane Phillips, Desire Abraham, Zanaya Phillips, and Zaire Phillips.
Makeda’s mother is Cherise George, her father is Avery Dawson, and her step mother is Aliah Dawson.