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First African-American Pilot In Maryland Air National Guard Reflects On Military Service

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The first African-American pilot to serve in the Maryland Air National Guard says he misses the feeling of flying.

"I never realized that I was going to wind up flying . . . it was the greatest thing," Lt. Col. James Betts told WJZ.

Betts joined the Maryland Air National Guard in 1963. He flew the North American F-86 Sabre fighter jets, the A-37 Dragonfly light attack aircraft, and the A-10C Thunderbolt single-seat aircraft out of the War Field Air National Guard Base in Middle River.

Betts served in the guard for 28 years and eventually retired.

He spent some of those years in the DC National Guard. He also worked at the Pentagon.

"I have nothing but fond memories of flying," Betts said.

"You know everyone . . . welcomed me with open arms even when I went to flight school when I was out in west Texas," he said.

On Tuesday, Betts watched as pilots took off on a training mission from the same airfield where he once flew airplanes.

He said he misses the days when he could fly.

"It makes me feel like I would love to be in that again," Betts said. "I would love to be in it again. But yeah, it brings back a lot of memories."

Betts went on to work as a pilot for American Airlines, working with them until 1999.

He says he loved all the opportunities the guard gave him and only wishes he did it sooner.

"My only regret is that it took me so long to get into it," he said.

If you want to learn more about Betts, head to

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