Those who dream of becoming a pilot don’t see the sky as the limit; they see it as a starting-off point. Bessie Coleman had every excuse to give up on her dream of becoming a pilot. In a time when American flight schools admitted neither women, nor African Americans, Coleman relentlessly pursued her passion for flight.
The young aspiring pilot worked for years, saving money to study abroad in Paris, France. There, she was unbound by limits due to her race and gender, and she seized the opportunity to learn to fly in a Nieuport 82 biplane. On June 15, 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first female of African American and Native American descent to earn a pilot’s license, as well as the first to earn an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
Returning to the United States in 1921, Coleman set her sights on earning a living as a stunt pilot. However, Coleman could not find anyone willing to teach her in the U.S., so she went back to France where she spent two months completing an advanced aviation course. From there it was off to the Netherlands to study under Anthony Fokker, one of the world’s most distinguished aircraft designers, then to Germany to receive additional advanced training from a chief pilot at the Fokker Corporation.
Coleman launched her career in exhibition flying upon returning to the United States. She made her first appearance in an American airshow on September 3, 1922 at Curtiss Field on Long Island, NY. She went on to excel at exhibition flying, stunning packed audiences with her daring and complex stunts.
Once her passion for aviation ignited, Coleman never stopped fanning the flame, even down to the last moments of her life. She left this world at age 34, doing exactly what she loved most.
To this day, Bessie Coleman continues to be an inspiration to all who dare to dream. In observance of Black History Month, and with Women in Aviation Day quickly approaching, ALPA is honored to recognize Coleman for her courage, passion, and skill.
Are you a woman who is passionate about aviation? Will you be at the 28th annual International Women in Aviation Conference from March 2-4, 2017? If so, be sure to stop by the ALPA booth (423). This event provides plenty of opportunities for education, networking, and mentoring. Plus, more than 100 scholarships valued at over 600,000 will be awarded! Use the hashtag #WAI17 and tag @WeAreALPA to share your experience.