Celebrating Black History Month!
First African American Fighter Pilot
Eugene J. BullardDespite many challenges in his life, Bullard’s ability to push through any obstacle he faced led him to become the first African American fighter pilot. Bullard faced both hardship and triumph during his time in the French Foreign Legion and Lafayette Flying Corps. For much of his flying career he shared his aircraft with a pet Rhesus monkey called “Jimmy”. In 1994 Bullard received a posthumous promotion to 2nd lieutenant, the one he was denied in 1917.
First African American Aviator to Earn License
Bessie Coleman“Queen Bess” was an early American aviator. Despite facing discrimination and prejudice, she earned her pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in France on Jun 15, 1921. When she returned home, she became a media sensation as a high-profile pilot performing in notoriously dangerous air shows.
Black Aviation Activist
William J. Powell Jr.While opportunities in the aerospace industry were limited for persons of color, there were some such as William Powell Jr. that believed African Americans had their place in the industry. William Powell Jr. led a group of black enthusiasts in Los Angeles throughout the 1920s, where he established the Bessie Coleman Flying Club and sponsored the first all-black air show. William’s advocacy for air equality led him to write his visionary book, Black Wings, and proceeded this book with a subsequent documentary. William Powell Jr. spent the majority of his life continuing to advocate for African American youth in aviation.
African American Aviation Advocate/Activist
Cornelius CoffeyCornelius Coffey was an African American air enthusiast and activist that dreamed of becoming a pilot. Coffey brought together the first group of black air enthusiasts to study at the Curtiss-Wright Aeronautic School in 1931. From there he assisted in organizing the Challengers Air Pilots’ Association which intended to expand upon aeronautic opportunities for African Americans in Chicago. Although they were excluded from local airfields, they managed to establish their own in Robbins, Illinois.
First Transcontinental Flight by an African American
James Herman BanningIn 1932, aviation pioneer James Herman Banning completed the first transcontinental flight by black airmen. Long distance flying during this period allowed for persons of color to showcase their flying skills in a dramatic fashion. Banning’s flight, along with copilot Thomas C. Allen, emphasized the skills that black aviators held, and promoted equality for all aviation.
First African American Woman with U.S. License
Willa BrownBrown was an American aviator, lobbyist, teacher, and civil rights activist. She was the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license in the United States, the first African American woman to run for Congress, the first African American officer in the Civil Air Patrol, and the first woman in the US to have both a pilot’s license and an aircraft mechanic’s license.
First African American Squadron in USAF
Tuskegee AirmenThe United States’ involvement in World War II demanded support from all citizens. In 1941, the Army Air Corps (predecessor to the U.S. Air Force) decided to expand and offer air training to African Americans and subsequently established the first segregated Fighter Squadron. The air base was located at Tuskegee, Alabama, and became the center for all training activities for black air personnel. The Tuskegee Airmen made pioneering contributions both to the war effort as well as to the subsequent drive to end segregation within the United States military.
First African American Commercial Pilot
Marlon GreenGreen spent his life breaking new ground for African Americans in aviation. In 1963, Green was involved in the Supreme Court case that changed anti-discrimination laws in the airline industry. This case required Continental Airlines to hire him, and he became one of the first African American pilots to be hired by a major commercial airline.
Mathematician, Data Analyst, Aeronautical Engineer
Dr. Christine DardenDarden began working at NASA in 1967 as a “human computer” while segregation was still strong. She overcame obstacles and retired in 2007 from NASA as director of the Office of Strategic Communication & Education and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019.
First African American in Space
Dr. Guion BlufordOn Aug 30, 1983, Guion “Guy” Bluford became the second space traveler of color to launch from any nation. He was chosen as a candidate in 1979 and trained as a Mission Specialist. He participated in 4 shuttle missions: STS-8, STS-61-A, STS-39, and STS-53.
First African American Woman in Space
Dr. Mae JemisonMae Jemison made history in 1992 when she became the first African American woman to enter space. Between the years 1978 and 2018, only fifty-seven women were chosen to enter the U.S. astronaut corps. Since her space flight aboard the Endeavor, five other women of color have followed in Jemison’s path. Jemison’s accomplishment further broke down barriers in the pursuit of equality in aerospace. Since leaving NASA, Dr. Jemison has continued to be an advocate for women and minorities in STEM.
Aerospace Engineer & NASA Astronaut
Stephanie WilsonWilson became an astronaut in 1996. She is the second African American woman to go to space. She has flown 3 Space Shuttle missions. She spent 42 days in space, which is more than any African American astronaut, male or female. Wilson was 1 of 18 astronauts selected for NASA’s Artemis mission.
First African American USAF Brigadier General
Gen Benjamin O. Davis Jr.Davis’s journey to become commander of the WWII Tuskegee Airmen and the first African American USAF brigadier general certainly was not easy. During WWII, Davis commanded the 99th Fighter Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group, which escorted bombers on air combat missions over Europe. Later, on Dec 9, 1998, he was advanced to four-star general by President Bill Clinton.
First African American Female Fighter Pilot
Shawna Rochelle KimbrellKimbrell is a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force. She became the first female African American fighter pilot in Aug 2000. She flew the F-16 Fighting Falcon during combat missions in Operation Northern Watch.
US Navy Commander, Flight Engineer, NASA Astronaut
Victor Glover Jr.Glover was selected as an astronaut in 2013 and is currently serving as pilot and second-in-command on the Crew-1 SpaceX Crew Dragon, named Resilience, which launched Nov 15, 2020. Glover has earned multiple degrees in higher education, including a Masters in Flight Test Engineering, a Masters in Systems Engineering, and a Masters in Military Operational Art & Science.