AMELIA EARHART made a name for herself in America’s Golden Age of Aviation. Amelia was America’s aviation heroine until her unconfirmed death in July, 1937. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, for which she received the U.S. Distinguished Flying cross. She also assisted in founding The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots. During an attempt to circumnavigate the globe via flight, Earhart and her famous Lockheed Model 10 Electra disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. During her lifetime, she was a motivation not only for women, but for pilots everywhere for pushing the boundaries and literally setting the sky as the limit. To this day, she continues to inspire and fascinate pilots and women everywhere. Her disappearance remains a mystery today.
Charles Alfred “Chief” Anderson was considered the father of Black Aviation in America. Unfortunately, during the early 1920’s, most flight instructors would not take black students. As a result, he taught himself to fly @ the age of 22. In 1940, Chief Anderson was hired by the Tuskegee Institute as it’s Chief Flight Instructor. Tuskegee University was home of the famed Tuskegee Airmen of WWII fame. At the time, he was the only Black American to hold both a private and commercial pilot’s rating. Chief Anderson was the pilot who made the history-making flight 19th of April, 1941, with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as his passenger. Their 40-minute flight did wonders to advance the cause of Black Aviation in America. The flight led to the eventual creation of the famed “Tuskegee Experiment” and eventually, the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII.
Lee Archer, Member of the original Tuskegee Airmen, was their Top Gun with relatively little time in combat. He was one of the first African-American pilots on the United States Army Air Corps, the U.S. Army Air Forces, ad the U.S. Air Force, and eventually earned the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Archer flew 169 combat missions, including escort, reconnaissance, and attack, in World War II and was officially credited with downing five enemy fighter aircraft. Archer is considered to be the first African-Amercan pilot to earn the prestigious “ace”designation for shooting down at least five aircraft. In one of his most famous engagements, Archer is credited with downing three Hungatian Bf 109s in the span of only 10 minutes over Nazi Occupied Hungary.
John Leland “Lee” Atwood worked for Douglas Aircraft from 1930 and left them in 1934 to join the engineering team at North American. While at Douglas Aircraft, he was instrumental in helping to design the DC-1, DC-2, and the DC-3. The DC-3 proved to be one of the most versatile and most important aircraft in American History. America’s logistical war effort during WWII, and then again through the Korean War, literally flew on the backs of the “Gooney Birds” as they were affectionately called by their crews. Designated the C-47, for “cargo”, the C-47 played more major roles in WWII than any other aircraft produced. After joining North American, one of the first projects he worked on was the AT-6 Texan, a 2-seat, advanced fighter trainer, that is still in use today, almost 70 years after it’s conception.
Major Scott Baldwin was born into a traveling circus family of entertainers, leading to a life that was anything but normal. He trained & performed as a trapeze artist in the 1870’s and took his first balloon ride in 1875. He made the first parachute jump from a balloon in history. He was known as “The Father of the Modern Parachute”. Likewise, his obsession with balloon flight and his ultimate building of America’s first dirigible, gave him his second aviation royalty title of “The Father of the American Dirigible”. He built his own airplane in 1910 and toured with it performing in airshows all over the world. At the ripe young age of 62, he volunteered for WWII and served as an officer in the Aviation Section of the US Army Signal Corps. After the war, he joined the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, as a designer & manufacturer of airships.
Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr. was the first Black American astronaut to fly in space. His first space flight was aboard STS-8, in 1983, as a mission specialist. This was the first flight to perform both a nighttime launch and recovery. Major Bluford was a combat pilot with more than 144 combat missions logged in Vietnam. During his stay in the USAF, he logged over 5,200 hours in jet flight time, and is a rated civilian commercial pilot. He has both a Masters of Science in Aerospace Engineering, and a Doctorate in Philosophy in Aerospace Engineering, with a minor in laser physics. He also holds a master’s degree in business from the University of Houston. He is one of the highest time astronauts in the Space Shuttle program with 4 flights and almost 700 hours of logged space flight time.
Mrs. Janet Harmon Bragg obtained her Registered Nursing Degree from Spellman College in Atlanta, GA. After starting her career in nursing in Chicago, she caught the flying bug and started taking flying lessons and enrolled at the Aeronautical School of Engineering. Flying lessons and aircraft rental proved too expensive, so she formed a group of Black American flight students and purchased her own aircraft for $600, renting flight time to the other students. She convinced the group to start their own airport, in an all-black community, Robbins, Illinois. This was the nucleus of people that started the Coffey School of Aviation in 1939. This school, and five other Black colleges participated in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) that later fed students into the Army air Corps training program @ Tuskegee University.
Katherine Sui Fun Cheung was the first Asian American woman pilot. Ms. Cheung came to the United States from China when she was 17 years old. He original plan was to study music, but her fascination with flying motivated her to start taking lessons while still in her mid-20’s. She soloed after only 12.5 hours of instruction. She became a member of the exclusive “99 Club”, an all-female pilot’s association started in the late 20’s – early 30’s by the likes of Amelia Earhart, who was a personal friend and occasional flying companion. She was an excellent aerobatic pilot and use to thrill crowds @ air shows with her aerobatic routines. Prior to WWII she had plans to move to China and assist the fledgling Cantonese Air Force train pilots to fight the Japanese.
Dr. Leroy Chiao was a Chinese American, born in Milwaukee, WS, but considers Danville, CA to be his hometown. After graduating from Monte ista High School in Daville, he went on to obtain his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from UC Berkeley in 1983, and a Masters of Science and a Doctorate in Chemical Engineering from UC Santa Barbara in 1985, & 1987, respectively. He became a NASA astronaut, where he flew on three shuttle flights, and was the commander of Expedition 10 where he lived aboard the International Space Station for six months. In 2004, Chiao voted in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, making him the first American to cast a vote from space. After his time with NASA, Chiao spends his time as an aerospace entrepreneur and motivational speaker.
Colonel Arthur Chin, with over 8 victories against the Japanese during WWII, while flying for the Nationalist Chinese prior to America entering the war after Pearl Harbor, Colonel Arthur Chin is recognized as the first American Fighter Ace of WWII. Infuriated by the invasion of China by the Japanese in 1932, Chin entered flight school with 15 other Chinese Americans for the express purpose of flying against the Japanese in defense of their ancestor’s home. On a mission in 1939, his aircraft was severely damaged, but he managed to bail out and escape. He returned to flying combat after two years of rehabilitation and returned to the US after WWII, where he died in 1997. A half-century after the end of WII, the U.S. Government recognized him as an American veteran, America’s first WWII Ace, and awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Jacqueline “Jackie” Chochran was the first woman in the world to break the sound barrier (at the age of 50!) At the time of her death in 1980, she held more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other pilot, male or female, in aviation history. She started and managed her own cosmetics company & caught the eye of a self-made millionaire, Floyd Odlum, who she later married. It was at his suggestion, that she learned to fly. She took, & mastered, all the advanced training that was available at that time for women. She became heavily involved in record setting and air racing in the 1930’s and set three flying records in 1937, followed up by winning the 1938 Bendix Air Race. She won a total of 14 Clifford Burke Harmon Trophies during her lifetime. In 1940, she set two air speed records for both men and women. When WWII came along, she became the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic and eventually organized, and led, the Women Air Force Service Pilot’s Group (WASP). She was also the first woman in American History to win the Distinguished Flying Cross.