Aviation is forever expanding and becoming more important to our worldwide economy and the connecting of societies and cultures. With this month being black history month it is appropriate to observe the massive and substantial contributions people of african descent have made throughout history despite overwhelming obstacles.
One of the earliest and most impressive stories of black pilots was of Bessie “Queen Bess” Coleman (1892-1926). She was born in Atlanta, Texas but later moved to Chicago to work. During this time World War I was happening. Bessie was an avid reader and saw stories about the pilots of the war and understood that given the opportunity she could become as great an aviator as anyone. She was then able to save enough money for flying lessons but no one in the United States would train her. As a result she chose to move to France in 1920 for flight training.
She earned her pilot license in 1921 and became the first woman of African American and Native American descent to earn a pilot license and first black person to earn an international pilot license. After she returned to America she went on to become a stunt pilot and spoke to public audiences inspiring African and Native Americans that it is possible to become an aviator. This helped to open the door for generations of aviators of African descent.
“If I can create the minimum of my plans and desires there shall be no regrets.”
Coming full circle from the infant years of powered flight we can observe Guion “Guy” Bluford (b. 1942) who is the first African American to go into space. Guion started his aviation career as a USAF fighter pilot. He graduated with a bachelors of science in aerospace engineering from the Pennsylvania State University in 1964 and after finishing pilot training in 1966 he flew the F-4C Phantom combat missions over North Vietnam.
He then went on to become an instructor pilot on the T-38 in 1967 and in 1974 earned a masters in Aerospace Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT). His career continued as a staff development engineer at the Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory and his education progressed further with a Ph.D in aerospace engineering earned in 1978 from AFIT. That same year he was selected to become a NASA astronaut.
The group he was with trained extensively for a year with his first mission being STS-8 which was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on August 30th, 1983. His last mission was on December 2nd, 1992 and completed with a total of 688 hours in space over his astronaut career.
After retiring from NASA and the USAF he has served in various leadership positions for Northrop Grumman and Aerospace Technologies Group. To top his illustrious and inspiring career off he was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1997, the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2010, the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2019 and in 2002 was on Molefi Kete Asante list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
“There will be black astronauts flying in later missions.. And they, too, will be people who excel, not simply who are black… who can ably represent their people, their communities, their country.”
Diversity in aviation is important as it helps to spark more ideas and innovation as well as strengthens the bonds between communities and cultures. These two brief stories of Bessie Coleman and Guion Bluford shows us that from the beginning years of aviation all the way to the space age how diversity has helped to progress the industry. Our academy is one of much diversity with students from many corners of the globe. We also work with the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals which helps to provide opportunities in aerospace to create a more diverse industry.
Every February Wayman Aviation is proud to highlight the achievements of aviators of african descent. Do you have any interesting historical stories about aviators of african descent? Leave a comment below and let us know!
Also, for those who enjoy regular stories on diversity within aviation feel free to also follow @aviatorsofcolor on instagram!