Celebrating Black History Month - Aviation Heroes

We celebrate historical figures in aviation to help honor Black History Month.

Emory Malick
Emory Malick

Emory Malick was the first African-American to earn a pilot’s license in the United States (1912). Mr. Malick was born in Seven Points, PA, and was an aviation pioneer. He attended Curtiss Aviation School in San Diego, CA.

Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas. She was the grandchild of slaves and moved to France to learn aviation. Bessie was the first African-American female to earn a pilot’s license (1921) and she flew as a show/stunt pilot.

Marlon Green
Captain Marlon Green

Captain Marlon Green was an African-American pilot and member of the United States Air Force where he flew the B-26 and SA-16 Albatross. He applied to numerous airlines and was rejected, but earned his 1st interview after leaving the “race” box unchecked. Captain Merlon Green won the landmark Supreme Court Case: "Colorado Anti-Discrimination Commission v. Continental Airlines” and was hired by Continental Airlines in 1965 and became a captain in 1966.

David E Harris
Captain David Harris

David Harris was the first African-American Airline pilot hired by a major US airline and was the first to be promoted to Captain. He was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from Ohio State University. Captain David Harris was a member of the Air Force and flew the B-47 and B-52 Bombers.

Patrice Washington
Patrice Clarke Washington

Patrice Clarke Washington was the first African American female airline Captain. She was one of the first African American females to graduate from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Her husband is also a pilot for American Airlines and they are the only African-American couple to fly for commercial carriers.

Bobby Wilks
Captain Bobby Charles Wilks

Bobby Charles Wilks was the first African-American Coast Guard aviator and the first African-American to reach the rank of Coast Guard captain. Captain Wilks was the first African-American to command a Coast Guard air station and involved in a number of air-sea rescues around the world. He received the Air Medal for his actions on the night of December 9, 1971, while piloting his helicopter over the Pacific Ocean. 

Gen. Ben Davis
Gen Benjamin O. Davis, Jr

General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was the first African-American USAF Pilot. He was born December 18, 1912 in Washington, DC. General Davis attended West Point from 1932-1936 and graduated 35th out of 278 in his Class. He was initially denied from the Army Air Corps (AAC) due to no black flying units, but was then assigned to the All-black 24th Infantry Regiment and became a combat instructor. He was finally assigned to flight training in Tuskegee Army Air Field (1942). General Davis was only 1 of 5 African-Americans to finish the course and the first Black Officer to make a solo flight in AAC Airplane. In July 1942, he was assigned as Commander of the 99th Pursuit Squadron (Tuskegee Airmen) and commanded the 332nd Fighter Group in WW2 (99th, 100th, 301st, 302nd Fighter squadrons). General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was promoted to the rank of General by President Clinton on December 9th, 1998.

Tuskegee Airmen
Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African-American military pilots (fighter and bomber) who fought in World War II. Officially, they formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. The all black military pilots who trained in the United States trained at Moton Field, the Tuskegee Army Air Field, and were educated at Tuskegee University, located near Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tuskegee Airmen unit was established in 1940, with the first class in 1941 and had 5 graduates of initial class in 1942. The primary aircraft they used were the P-40 Warhawk, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and the P-51 Mustang. The Tuskegee Airmen received the following awards: 3 Presidential Unit Citations, 1 Silver Star, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals, 8 Purple Hearts.

Christina Hopper
Christina Hopper

Christina Hopper is the first black female Fighter Pilot. She is a 1998 graduate of the University of Texas AF ROTC program and was selected for the Air Force Pilot Program. She completed F-16 training in 2001 and flew over 50 combat missions in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Southern Watch, and Iraqi Freedom. Ms. Hopper was awarded an Air Medal for missions flown in Operation Iraqi Freedom and is currently a reserve pilot with over 1,000 logged hours in an F-16.

Guion Bluford
Guion “Guy” Bluford

Guion "Guy" Bluford, Jr. was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a graduated of Penn State University. He is a retired Colonel from the United States Air Force and a former NASA Astronaut. He flew F-4C Combat Aircraft in the Vietnam Conflict (144 Missions) and joined NASA in 1979. Colonel Bluford was the first African American in space; participating in four flights of Space Shuttle between 1983 and 1992. His first mission launched Aug. 30, 1983 (Challenger) and he served as a mission specialist on 4 shuttle missions (STS-8, STS-61-A, STS-53, STS-39). He retired from the Air Force and NASA in 1993 and logged 688 hours in Space.