NEW YORK — Ed Dwight grew up in segregated 1930s Kansas on a farm on the edge of town. An airfield was within walking distance, and, as a boy, he'd often go to marvel at the planes and gawk at the pilots. Most were flying back from hunting trips and their cabins were messy with blood and empty beers cans on the floor.
“They'd say to me, ‘Hey kid, would you clean my airplane? I'll give you a dime,'” Dwight, 90, recalls. But when he was 8 or 9, Dwight asked for more than a dime. He wanted to fly.
“My first flight was the most exhilarating thing in the world,” says Dwight, smiling. “There were no streets or stop signs up there. You were free as a bird.”
It would be years before Dwight entertained the idea of himself becoming a pilot. “It was the white man's domain,” he says. But while in college, he saw in a newspaper, above the fold, an image of a downed Black pilot in Korea.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, they're letting Black people fly,'” Dwight says. “I went straight to the recruitment office and said, ‘I want to fly.'”
With that decision, Dwight set in motion a series of events that would very nearly lead to him being among the first astronauts. As Dwight progressed through the Air Force, he was handpicked by President John F. Kennedy's White House to join Chuck Yeager's test pilot program at Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert.
That fabled astronaut breeding ground, site…