By Marlee Ginter

YUBA COUNTY (CBS13) — The U-2 aircraft, nicknamed the “Dragon Lady,” is one of the toughest aircraft to fly in the United States Air Force — but that didn’t stop Merryl Tengesdal.

She decided to become a pilot during a time when there weren’t many minorities in the aviation field. Now she’s the first and only African American woman to fly the U-2.

READ MORE: Researchers: ‘Solar Canals' In California Could Save Water, Fight For Climate Change

“Getting in that aircraft, it’s not intimidating, but you’re excited and then it’s like, ‘OK, let’s be the best that we can be.’ I like challenges,” Tengesdal told CBS13.

She likes challenges and she rises to the occasion. Raised by a single mother, Tengesdal put herself through college and earned her degree in electrical engineering. She rose from a Naval helicopter pilot to T-6 instructor and then transitioned to the USAF where she became a Captain, a U-2 pilot, and then retired as a Colonel. Tengesdal isn’t done. She’s now a mom who’s also doing foster care.

“It’s like controlled chaos. You try to prioritize,” she said.

“Nothing that Merryl does anymore surprises me,” said Ken Hall.

Hall is the director of Manpower Personnel and Services at Beale Air Force Base.  He’s been with Merryl from the beginning, training her on the U-2 in 2004.

READ MORE: Shock G, Off-Kilter Leader Of Bay Area's Digital Underground, Dead At 57

“Really, the airplane is the hardest to land when you come back and that’s when you’re the most tired. That’s when you’re the most mentally fatigued,” said Hall.  “She has worked her tail off to get where she’s at and done it with grace.”

If Tengesdal looks familiar, you may have seen her on the CBS show, Tough as Nails.

“Man it was like getting the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory.  Phil Keoghan has a tough house.  Tough as nails,” said Tengesdal.

She’s clearly a tough one, but with a soft side now paying it forward as a foster mom.

“I want to be the one who steps up and gives someone an opportunity. Can everyone else do that? Regardless of what they look like, what their gender is. Give them an opportunity and see how it goes,” said Tengesdal.

MORE NEWS: 'The Damage Is Bad': Sacramento Neighbors Fed Up After Wayward Golf Balls Keep Hitting Homes, Cars

The advice she gives to the generations to come, “you’re going to come up against obstacles. Go over it,  go around it. Keep pushing forward.”