Botwc Firsts

Honoring William Spruill: The First Black U.S. Park Police Helicopter Pilot

Honoring William Spruill: The First Black U.S. Park Police Helicopter Pilot

Hidden history!

William Spruill Sr. was the first Black helicopter pilot for the U.S. Park Police.

Spruill, a Rich Square, North Carolina native, grew up on a farm, eventually leaving after high school to pursue his career, obtaining his private pilot's license along the way. When the U.S. Park Police founded their aviation program, Spruill was one of just three officers trained as helicopter pilots, making history as the first and only Black person to serve in the position from 1972-1977.

As a Park Police helicopter pilot, Spruill supported and flew missions for the Secret Service, FBI and various other local law enforcement agencies. Eventually, he became commander of the unit, raking up several accomplishments. He became the first pilot to fly a Medevac mission, flying search and rescue, and Presidential Security missions and working with the National Park Service construction office to build the first hangar for the aircraft in Washington, DC's Anacostia Park.

Photo Courtesy of Denise Smith

As one of three founding pilots, Spruill said he always tried to get other Black men to apply as pilots, but the qualifications were rigorous, and many who tried didn't make it. Eventually, he retired as a ranking major and became the first National Aviation Manager for the National Park Service, where he served 15 years before retiring in 2006. In that role, Spruill developed and managed policy to use aviation resources for all national parks, including those in Alaska and Hawaii. To date, no other African-American has held this position either. 

Now 80-years-old, Spruill reflects fondly on his time, focusing more on his triumphs than any obstacles that might have arisen. The American University graduate said he does remember people not believing he was the pilot and aware of the microscope he was under. His advice to others is to never back down from any challenge and always work hard for what you want in life.

"Don't wait for it to be handed to you by someone else; you have to prepare yourself through education, preparation, and perseverance," Spruill told Because Of Them We Can.

Thank you for your service, Mr. Spruill. 

Photo Courtesy of Denise Smith