Nightly News   |  February 08, 2011

Black female chopper pilot soars above stereotypes

"The Grio's 100" series profiles African Americans who are making history every day--among them LaShanda Holmes, who overcame tremendous hurdles to become the Coast Guard's first black female chopper pilot. NBC's Ron Mott reports.

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>>> finally tonight, along with our fellow nbc website thegrio.com, we're following people who are making history every day. tonight an inspirational story about a young woman who overcame tremendous hurdles to accomplish something extraordinary. our own ron mott has the report tonight from los angeles .

>> reporter: early morning in l.a., time to get a move on. the chopper's ready to go, and so is lashonda holmes. she's the first black female helicopter pilot to ever wear the orange jumpsuit.

>> i'm proud of it, it's a blessing, and i hope i can continue to inspire everyone else. but i don't think about it a whole lot.

>> reporter: what she does think about is becoming a more proficient aviator, flying by the book, constantly studying.

>> you'll pick up some railroad tracks .

>> reporter: impressing her colleagues.

>> she's another great asset in the coast guard to have, a good pilot. that's ultimately what the coast guard needs, great pilots.

>> reporter: her flight happened by happenstance.

>> i had a bunch of people come to my table all day, no one came to his table. by the end of the day i felt bad.

>> reporter: she walked over to say hello.

>> like any pilot, her path to the cockpit was structured right down to the slightest detail. but the route her life took to get her up here, required a far different set of skills to master. her mother's suicide when she was 2 was followed by a period of abuse and foster care . and yet she's excelled. an inspiration for her family back home in north carolina , especially her younger sisters.

>> that's what's so amazing, they don't have to go outside of their door to look for anyone else to look up to, because they have it right here.

>> reporter: despite her place in history, lieutenant holmes says there's no secret to her achievements.

>> you get over these little things, you build more character, then you can be trusted with a bigger blessing.

>> reporter: for her, a future that's literally up and away. ron mott, nbc news, los angeles .

>> watch more on our website thegrio.com.