In 1969 Wheeler, a native of Durham, North Carolina, established Wheeler Flying Service (Wheeler Airlines), the first African American owned and operated air service in the US. In 1966 following a personal recommendation from former North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford, Wheeler also began his lengthy tenure with Piedmont Airlines as the company’s 1st Black aviator.
Early on, Wheeler had a strong desire to become a professional aviator. By the time he graduated from High School Wheeler had obtained credentials to fly privately. Wheeler followed his passion by enrolling in the American Flyers School in Oklahoma, in 1962. At age nineteen, he completed the course and gained his commercial pilot’s license. Wheeler returned to North Carolina where he was unable to obtain employment in the local airline industry because of his race. Undaunted, Wheeler opened a piloting academy in 1962, mainly as a practical method for acquiring flight hours so he could ultimately gain a commercial piloting job. Operating out of Chapel Hill’s Airport, Wheeler’s flight academy allowed him to purchase a plane and to team with the UNC Chapel Hill to instruct some its white pupils who wanted to learn to fly. While operating his academy, he also chartered flights at the Airport as a means for obtaining commercial flight hours.
Warren H. Wheeler headed Wheeler Airlines over its entire existence (1969–1991). Around 1976, because of an increase in business, Wheeler Flying Service was renamed Wheeler Airlines. At its zenith, Wheeler Airlines chartering flights for over forty thousand customers annually. This success allowed the airline to add several planes to its fleet. Wheeler also established Wheeler Regional Airlines, which provided nationwide air service to its clientele. In 1983 Wheeler created Caribbean Wings as a subsidiary of Wheeler Airlines.
Wheeler also paved the way for African Americans and other people of color who sought aviation careers. Beginning in 1979, Wheeler became the first airline owner to use various government employment training programs such as the federal Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) to train unemployed and impoverished people of color who wanted careers in the airline industry. In addition to giving these pupils practical instruction, Wheeler served as their employment negotiator with regional and national carriers. For this and other work, the Organization of Black Airline Pilots gave Wheeler its highest award because of his contribution to the airline industry.
Since 1994 Warren H. Wheeler has been a resident of the British Virgin Islands where he runs Caribbean Wings. His company specializes in providing air travel throughout the Caribbean Islands.