Who was the first American to receive an international pilot license?
Elizabeth Bessie Coleman
The woman that would become the first international air pilot, Elizabeth “Bessie Coleman, was born in Atlanta, Texas on January 28, 1892 to a half-Cherokee father who was a sharecropper with her mother. Bessie was the tenth of thirteen children, She died on April 30 in the year she turned 34 years old. The American civil aviator as a child walked four miles each day to her all-black, one-room school from the time she was six years old for her childhood education. Although lacking school supplies and other school materials such as writing utensils, she excelled as a student. She became an expert at mathematics. Despite the fact that Coleman’s routine of school, chores, and church was interrupted by the cotton harvest, she managed to complete eight years of school.
Racial barriers In 1901 had her father George fed up, so he left his family hoping to make a better life by returning to Oklahoma called at the time, Indian Territory. Life was very difficult for Bessie Smith, her mother and siblings because of her father’s need to find work.. At the age of twelve, Ms. Coleman was accepted into the Missionary Baptist Church. When she turned eighteen, Coleman took all of her savings and enrolled in the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University, which is today called Langston University.
Bessie lived on campus for only one term before she ran out of money and was forced to return home. Believing she would have no future in her home state, she went to live with two brothers who had moved to Chicago in hope of finding work.
She was twenty-three years of age when she found a job as a manicurist at the White Sox Barber Shop in Chicago, Illinois. It was during this time, reading newspaper accounts and hearing the tales of many World War One pilots returning home, that her interest in flying and becoming a pilot peaked. Working at the barbershop proved to be the most beneficial turn of events in the life Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman. She met many influential African American men. Robert S. Abbott, the founder and publisher of the newspaper The Chicago Defender
and Jesse Binga, a real estate promoter were two. She received backing from both gentlemen. Coleman as can be seen in the photograph was a beauty. The newspaper capitalized by using her to promote the paper and her cause. She was not able to gain admission to American flight schools; being black and female stagnated the possibility.
Her brothers used to tease her by commenting that French women were better than African-American women because French women were pilots already. It was Robert Abbott who encouraged her to study abroad. Coleman took French language class at the Berlitz school in Chicago, and then traveled to Paris on November 20, 1920. Coleman learned to fly in a Nieuport Type 82 biplane, with "a steering system that consisted of a vertical stick the thickness of a baseball bat in front of the pilot and a rudder bar under the pilot's feet.
" On June 15, 1921, Coleman became not only the first African-American woman to earn an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
, but the first African American woman in the world to earn an aviation pilot's license. Determined to polish her skills, Coleman spent the next two months taking lessons from a French ace pilot near Paris, and in September 1921, sailed for New York. She became a media sensation when she returned to the United States.
“On April 30, 1926, Coleman, at the age of thirty-four, was in Jacksonville, Florida. She had recently purchased a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny in Dallas, Texas and had it flown to Jacksonville in preparation for an airshow. Her friends and family did not consider the aircraft safe and implored her not to fly it. Her mechanic and publicity agent, William Wills, was flying the plane with Coleman in the other seat. Coleman did not put on her seatbelt because she was planning a parachute jump for the next day and wanted to look over the cockpit to examine the terrain. About ten minutes into the flight, the plane did not pull out of a planned nosedive; instead it accelerated into a tailspin. Coleman was thrown from the plane at 500 feet. William Wills was unable to gain control of the plane and it plummeted to the ground. Wills died upon impact and the plane burst into flames. Although the wreckage of the plane was badly burned, it was later discovered that a wrench used to service the engine had slid into the gearbox and jammed it, causing the plane to spin out of control. Experts noted at the time that gears in more modern planes had a protective covering — an accident like this need not have happened.“