Welcome to our media contact and press kit page. Here, you will find all the information you need to cover Merryl and her achievements.
If you’re a journalist, blogger, or event organizer looking to feature, interview, or invite Col. Merryl Tengesdal, you’re in the right place. Here, you’ll find all the resources you need to understand her groundbreaking career, her contributions to aviation and the military, and her impact as a role model and leader.
We hope this Media & Press Kit provides you with the resources you need. We look forward to collaborating with you to share Col. Merryl Tengesdal’s inspirational story and insights with a wider audience.
Merryl Tengesdal is a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel renowned for her trailblazing career as one of the first African American female U-2 pilots. She has shattered glass ceilings, defied stereotypes, and become a beacon of inspiration for countless individuals. Col. Tengesdal has flown numerous combat missions and has held various leadership positions during her service.
Meet Merryl Tengesdal, a remarkable woman from The Bronx, New York, born in 1971, who had her eyes set on the stars from a young age. She nurtured a dream of becoming an astronaut, fueled by her fascination with flying and the space program.
Merryl’s journey kicked off when she graduated from the University of New Haven with a degree in electrical engineering, being one of only three women in her program. She was also a part of the basketball team and the ROTC during her time there.
In 1994, after her time at Officer Candidate School, she stepped into the Navy as a commissioned officer. Merryl started her flying career as a Naval Aviator, piloting the SH-60B Seahawk Helicopter from Naval Station Mayport, Florida. Her assignments took her to various parts of the world including the Middle East, South America, and the Caribbean.
After some years, Merryl transitioned to a role as a flight instructor, where she shined, earning high praise from her own instructors and those she trained.
Her ambition didn’t stop there. Merryl transitioned to the Air Force, where she achieved a historic milestone. She became the first and only Black woman to pilot the U-2 spy plane, also known as The Dragon Lady. This feat wasn’t just a personal achievement; it was a groundbreaking moment that brought her closer to her childhood dreams.
Flying the U-2 took Merryl to various locations worldwide, fulfilling critical reconnaissance missions. She logged over 1,000 flight hours in the U-2, showcasing her skill and dedication to her craft.
On the ground, Merryl took on significant responsibilities too. She served as the Director of Inspections for The Air Force Inspector General, ensuring the readiness and effectiveness of Air Force units.
Merryl’s quest for knowledge was insatiable. She furthered her education by earning a Masters of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Her career saw her rising to the position of Director of Inspections at the Pentagon, a testament to her skill and dedication. Yet, despite the high ranks and accolades, Merryl remained as grounded and focused as the young girl dreaming of the stars in The Bronx.
In 2017, Merryl retired from her remarkable military career. Yet, her legacy continues to inspire countless individuals to chase their dreams, no matter how high they aim.
Trailblazing Pilot: Merryl Tengesdal is the first and only Black woman to fly the United States Air Force’s U-2 spy plane, which is used for specialized high-altitude reconnaissance missions.
Exclusive Group: She is one of only five women and the fourth Black person (as of 2004) to be in the U-2 program.
Diverse Military Service: Tengesdal is a military veteran who served in both the US Navy and the US Air Force, retiring at the rank of United States Air Force Colonel.
Combat Experience: She served in the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan.
Educational Achievements: Tengesdal graduated from the University of New Haven with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering and later completed a Masters of Aeronautical Science at Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University. She has an honorary Doctorate’s from University of New Haven
Navy to Air Force: She began her military career in the Navy, flying the SH-60B Seahawk Helicopter, and later transferred to the Air Force to fly the U-2 spy plane.
Distinguished Service: During her Air Force service, Tengesdal held significant positions, including Director of Inspections for The Air Force Inspector General.
Flight Record: Tengesdal has more than 3,400 flight hours, with over 330 being combat hours. Over 1,000 of those flight hours are in the U-2.
Personal Life: Merryl Tengesdal is also a personal trainer, author, leadership consultant, and motivational speaker. She was honored with the Distinguished Alumni award from the University of New Haven in 2013 and competed on the CBS reality series “Tough as Nails” in 2021.
Publications: In 2022, she authored a book titled “Shatter the sky.” Audiobook read by Merryl.
Merryl is represented by the Harry Walker Agency, the world’s Leading Speaker’s Bureau. To invite Merryl to speak at your event, click here.
2021 – Doctor of Engineering (honorary), University of New Haven, Connecticut
2011 – Air War College, Non-Resident Program, Maxwell AFB, AL
2008 – Masters of Aeronautical Science, Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida
2005 – Air Command and Staff College, Non-Resident Program, Maxwell AFB, Alabama
1994 – Bachelor of Science Electrical Engineering, University of New Haven, Connecticut
Groundbreaking aviator, author, and retired Colonel Merryl Tengesdal made history as the first and only African American woman USAF U-2 Pilot. For over two decades, Tengesdal served as a Naval Aviator and Air Force Combat Pilot, deploying worldwide in support of combat and military operations and piloting the “Dragon Lady” high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. She has extensive command and senior leadership experience, most recently serving as the Director of Inspections for the Air Force Inspector General overseeing a program for 860K Airmen, and was the first woman selected to be Commander of Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, Detachment 2, overseeing a multi-billion-dollar testing program. Tengesdal’s remarkable journey is chronicled in her memoir, Shatter the Sky: What going to the stratosphere taught me about self-worth, sacrifice, and discipline, and her riveting storytelling leaves audiences feeling motivated, inspired, and ready to reach new heights.
Tengesdal starred on CBS’ Tough as Nails, promoting increased minority involvement in the Trades. She has also appeared as a commentator on PBS’ UNLADYLIKE2020: The Bessie Coleman Story, as a technical consultant on Bridge of Spies, and as a featured contributor for Smithsonian Channel’s Air Warrior. Tengesdal was inducted into the 2019 Gathering of Eagles Foundation as an aviation pioneer and is a dedicated advocate for increasing women and children of color in STEM. In sought-after events with groups like Lockheed Martin, Women Impacting Storebrand Excellence, the Transportation Leadership Forum, and more, Tengesdal shares her experiences and insights on leadership as a woman and person of color in spaces where women and people of color are underrepresented, maximizing physical and mental health, and applying military leadership to business enterprises and everyday life.
Merryl’s accomplishments and accolades are a testament to her dedication and service. Merryl’s multiple awards are a clear indication of her dedication, commitment, and exemplary service.