Honoring African American Aviation Heroes

Black History Month is celebrated to honor the contributions and achievements of African Americans and their central roles in United States history.  As we celebrate Black History Month, the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is honoring African Americans that made history in the aviation industry. Below are a few pioneers that would we would like to acknowledge as we celebrate the legacy and contributions of African American aviators and pioneers throughout history that helped raise the aviation industry to new heights.


Emory Malick

Emory Malick was a pioneer aviator in central Pennsylvania. Malick is pinned as the first licensed black aviator by obtaining his international pilot’s license from Curtiss Flying School on March 20, 1912.


 Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was the first African American and Native American woman pilot. Best known for performing flying tricks, Bessie was nicknamed “Brave Bessie,” “Queen Bess,”  and “The Only Race Aviatrix in The World”. One of Coleman’s goals was to encourage women and African Americans to shoot for their dreams.


Captain David Harris

Captain David Harris was the first African American commercial pilot hired by a major US airline and the first to be promoted to Captain. Harris was hired by American Airlines and flew for the airline for 30 years before retiring in December of 1994.


Christine Darden

Christine Darden is an American mathematician, data analyst and aeronautical engineer who contributed to the aerodynamic department at NASA by researching supersonic flight and sonic boom. She was the first African American woman at NASA’s Langley Research Center to be promoted into Senior Executive Service, the top rank in the federal civil service.


Cornelius Coffey

As an auto mechanic, Coffey dreamed about being a pilot. In 1931, he brought together a group of African American air enthusiasts to study at Curtiss Wright Aeronautical school. He helped organized the Challengers Air Pilots Association to expand flying opportunities for African American in Chicago. In 1932, Coffey became the first African American certified aircraft mechanic. He was also the first African American to hold both a pilot’s and mechanic’s license. In 1938, Coffey established his own aeronautics school, the Coffey School of Aeronautics.


Janet Bragg

Janet Bragg was a pioneer female African American pilot whose leadership in African American pilot organizations in the 1930s helped create opportunities for others. In 1933, she enrolled in Curtiss Wright Aeronautical School where she was the only female in an aircraft mechanic class of 24. She was a monumental person who purchased a plane that inspired the creation of the Challenger’s Air Pilots Association.


Patrice Clarke Washington

Patrice Clarke Washington is known as a Bahamian airplane pilot. She was the first black graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the first woman pilot of Bahamasair, the first black woman captain of a major U.S. air service, and first black female pilot hired by the United Parcel Service.


Captain Marlon Green

Captain Marlon Green was an African American pilot who made his mark by being hired by Continental Airlines. Green was denied the job initially due to discrimination and he filed a case. His case reached the United States Supreme Court in 1963 and his victory helped define new rules in the airline industry.


Major Christina Hopper

Major Christina Hopper became the first African American fighter pilot to face combat in a major war while representing the USA in Iraq. Hopper has received four Air Medals and the Aerial Achievement medal for her bravery.


William J. Powell

William J. Powell was an American engineer, solider, civil aviator, and author who helped paved the way for African Americans getting into aviation. During the 1920s, Powell led a small group of African American air enthusiasts by establishing the Bessie Coleman Flying Club and sponsored the first all black air show.









Willa Brown

Willa Brown was an American activist, lobbyist, and teacher. Brown was the first African American woman to earn a pilot license and a commercial license. As another major accolade, Willa was the first African American officer in the Civil Air Patrol. With Cornelius Coffey and Enoch P. Waters, the group formed the National Airmen’s Association of America to help attract more interest in the aviation industry and increase African American participation.










James Banning

James Banning was an American aviation pioneer. In 1932, Banning became the first black aviator to fly coast-to coast. With his mechanic, Thomas Allen, Banning made the 3,000 mile trip from Los Angeles to Long Island, NY.


To learn more about other African Americans that have contributed greatly to our industry, follow us on social media where we have featured more about our aviation heroes.