Jill Elaine Brown was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1950. She graduated from Arundel High School and has a Bachelor of Science in home economics from the University of Maryland. When she was 17, her entire family took up flying as a hobby because, “Daddy was tired of getting speeding tickets,” she was quoted as saying. After she graduated from the University of Maryland, she took up a teaching position, but soon discovered that she wanted more. She decided to rekindle her love and interest in flying, spending her spare time and money on flying lessons where she earned her instrumental, commercial, and instructor’s ratings.
In 1974, Brown signed up for flight training in the United States Navy, and was the first black woman to be admitted into the program. However, her career with the Navy ended after only six months, and she was honorably discharged. Afterwards, she resumed flight training and earned her multiengine rating, and later worked for Wheeler Airlines in North Carolina, first as a ticket-seller and then as a co-pilot. After she logged 800 flight hours, on top of the 400 hours she already had, she qualified to be a commercial airline pilot and left Wheeler for Texas International Airport and in 1978 Brown received her wings as the first African-American female pilot to fly for a major U.S. commercial airline.
After six months of employment with Texas International, she left and gained employment as a co pilot at Zantop International Airlines, a cargo carrier based in Michigan, where she remained until sometime in the mid-1980s.