How Many Black Pilots Do You Know?

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt Rachael Parks
  • 47th Flying Training Wing

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Tx -- "I'm the only black Lieutenant Colonel pilot on this base,” says Julián “Diesel” Benton, 47th Operations Group deputy commander. “It’s important for student pilots to see me. Just last week, I was speaking a foreign language with a student, and at the end of that conversation, the student says ‘I did not expect to meet a black man that speaks my language.’”

Benton assists the Operations Group commander in overseeing the direct training for the United States Air Force and allied pilots, while leading 1,100 active duty, civilian and reserve personnel.

In an interview on Black History Month, he said, “I need people to see me as an educator, as a pilot, as an officer, as a linguist, and as a black man.” says Benton.  “Because when they do, they get a whole new idea of what is possible in this Air Force and in this country.”

Black History Month is the annual observation of African American achievements and impact in U.S. History.  Some continue to ask why it’s still important to recognize a month based on the color of someone's skin or ethnic background.

“Just because we say everything is equal now, doesn’t mean it actually is,” said Benton. “Anytime there’s an underrepresented or marginalized group, you don’t overcome it by just saying ‘you’re fine, we’re equal!’”

Benton explained that his family was the reason for him becoming an Air Force officer. “There’s quite a bit that goes into becoming the hero you always saw and wanted to be. For me, the example I always had was my family in the Air Force.”

Benton followed his father and older brother into the Air Force. His Father, Lt. Col. (ret.) Jimmie L. Benton, commissioned in 1976 from the U.S. Air Force Academy and became a Staff Judge Advocate. His brother, Lt. Col. (ret.) Javier L. Benton commissioned via AFROTC through Howard University.

Benton is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. He commissioned in 2004, and earned his wings from Laughlin in 2006.

After commissioning, Benton went on to earn three masters degrees, one he completed as a meritorious graduate of The Escuela Superior de Guerra, in Bogotá, Colombia. Benton is the only U.S. citizen to ever receive a graduate degree from The Escuela Superior de Guerra.

Benton is passionate about motivating all of the students he sees despite their age, race or gender, but he wants to be an example specifically to minority students, who have higher attrition rates than their peers, according to a RAND study completed in 2018.                          

Only 63 percent of the United States are Caucasian, 49 percent are male, and yet 86 percent of Air Force Pilots are white men, according to the latest demographic of pilots in the United States Air Force. Since 2003, only 2 percent of the Air Force’s pilots are black. 


USAF Pilot Demographics

U.S. Demographics







African American
























When asked if there was one thing he wanted to impart on his students and Airmen, Benton said,

“Do the right thing. It’s worth it.”