Aerobatic Pilot Bessie Coleman Earned License In 1921
The National Aviation
Hall of Fame has a distinguished history of inducting a long list
of aviation pioneers into its ranks... and this Saturday, the
organization will honor a true trailblazer.
Bessie Coleman was born in Atlanta, TX in 1892... the tenth of
13 children. At the age of 29, she moved to France to learn to
fly... as US schools at the time turned her away, because she was
Not only did she learn to fly a plane... but she learned to fly
aerobatics, which was almost unheard of at the time. In 1921, she
was awarded an international pilots license by the renowned
Federation Aeronatique Internationale... becoming the first African
American individual to earn such an honor. She was also the only
woman in her class of 62 students.
After honing her aerobatic skills, she returned to the US in
1922, and started touring as "the world's greatest woman flyer."
For the next four years, she performed all around the country --
insisting her audiences be desegregated -- and building up funds
she hoped would one day allow her to open a flight school for black
Sadly, she would not live to see her dream become reality... as
in April of 1926, she fell from the cockpit of a JN-4 "Jenny"
biplane that her mechanic was test-flying, after the pilot lost
control following a mechanical failure.
While she was lost that
day, however... her spirit lived on. William J. Powell established
the Bessie Coleman Aero Club in Los Angeles, California in 1929...
which later inspired flyers like the Five Blackbirds, the Flying
Hobos... and the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.
Coleman has received numerous accolades over the years... but on
July 15 she will be formally recognized by the NAHF, along with
fellow high-flying inductees David "Tex" Hill, the World War II
flying ace; aviation advocate, pilot and Oscar-winning actor Cliff
Robertson; and test pilot and X-15 astronaut Robert M. White.