Ed Dwight is an American sculptor, author, and former test pilot. He is the first African American to enter the Air Force training program from which NASA selected astronauts. Controversially, he was not selected to officially join NASA.
Dwight enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1953. He completed his pre-flight training as aviator and cadet at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas. He then traveled to Malden Air Force Base in Malden, Missouri, to finish his main flight training. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force in 1955 before being assigned to Williams Air Force Base, southeast of Phoenix, Arizona. While training to become a test pilot, Dwight attended evening classes at Arizona State University. In 1957, he graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree. in aeronautical engineering. Later, Dwight completed Air Force courses in experimental test piloting and aerospace research at Edwards Air Force Base in 1961 and 1962, respectively. He obtained the rank of captain while serving in the Air Force.
In 1961, the Kennedy administration selected Dwight as the first African-American astronaut trainee, at the suggestion of the National Urban League’s Whitney Young. His selection attracted international media attention and Dwight appeared on the covers of news magazines such as Ebony, Jet, and Sepia. Dwight went on to Phase II of the Aerospace Research Pilot School (ARPS), but was not selected by NASA to be an astronaut. He resigned from the Air Force in 1966, claiming, according to The Guardian, that “racial politics had forced him to leave NASA and enter the regular officer corps.” In August 2020, Dwight was named an honorary member of the Space Force in Washington DC.