Honoring the life of an aviation pioneer
In the world of aviation, there are few individuals who have broken more barriers along the way than Bessie Coleman.
Born in Texas in 1892, Coleman moved to Chicago at age 23 to try and make a better life for herself. When her brothers came home from serving overseas in World War I, they shared stories of the French women who were allowed to take flying lessons. She decided then that that was her goal. Coleman applied to several flights schools in the U.S., but no school would take her because she was both African-American and a woman.
Coleman spent months learning French before attending the Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation in France. When she received her international pilot’s license in June 1921, Coleman was the first American of any race or gender to be directly awarded credentials to pilot an airplane from the Federation Aeronitique Internationale.
Over the next few years, Coleman continued to train with the great aviators of Europe and develop her flying skills. She perfected maneuvers into finely polished aerobatic stunts including, figure eights, loop the loops, trick climbs and even landing the airplane with the engine off.
Coleman eventually returned to the U.S. and began performing her daring stunts in air shows. She was nicknamed “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bess,” dazzling large crowds across the country.
Sadly, Coleman’s life was cut short in 1926 at the age of 34, when she was fell to her death while on a practice flight in Jacksonville, FL. Her dreams of opening her own flying school to help other women and African-Americans achieve their flying goals, was not to be.
Tampa International Airport honored Coleman’s accomplishments in Sept. 2000, when the Board of Directors unanimously voted to rename the Airport Service Road to Bessie Coleman Boulevard in recognition of one of history’s great aviatrix.