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Qatar Airways is celebrating Black History Month, in partnership with the Brooklyn Nets. We are paying tribute to the talent and achievements of renwoned aviation pioneers by showcasing their stories at the Barclays Stadium throughout the month of February.

William J. Powell: Author of "Black Wings"

Famous for his visionary autobiography, “Black Wings”, William J. Powell was a well-known African American pilot, engineer and entrepreneur. After receiving his pilot’s license in 1932, Powell set out to motivate other African Americans to pursue a career in aviation, throughout a time of racial segregation. He opened a flying school, produced a movie, published monthly journals, offered scholarships to young African Americans, and founded the first African American owned airplane manufacturer. Powell died in 1942.

Bessie Coleman: First African-American female pilot

Born with a combined African American and Native American heritage, Bessie Coleman was the very first female from either ethnic heritage to become a pilot. In 1921, Coleman set off for France where she broke racial barriers in the aviation industry by earning her pilot’s license. She then returned to the United States where she became a famous airshow pilot. Coleman died doing what she loved, during a failed test flight in 1926.

Eugene Jacques Bullard: First African-American military combat pilot

Known as the very first African American man to become a military pilot, Eugene Jacques Bullard received his pilot’s license during World War I. Eugene was a decorated infantryman in the war before he courageously undertook his military pilot training in 1917. Bullard participated in more than 20 combat missions and went on to fight in World War II. He retired from the war after being wounded and ventured to the United States, where he later died in 1961. 

Cornelius Coffey: First aviation school founder

Distinguished as the first African American aviator with both a pilot and mechanic’s license, Cornelius Coffey had admirable ambition to make a difference in the black community. After receiving both aviation licenses in 1932, Coffey founded the first non-university affiliated flight school in the United States. Together with his wife, Willa Brown, Coffey trained a significant number of African American pilots at the Coffey School of Aeronautics in Illinois. He passed away in 1994.

James Banning: First African-American pilot to fly across America

Known for making African American history, James Banning was the first black pilot to complete a transcontinental flight from Los Angeles to New York. Banning embarked on this great expedition in 1932, after receiving his pilot’s license in 1926. Banning defied racial segregation and undertook his training with a white pilot, as American schools were not permitted to teach African Americans.  Banning passed away during an air show plane crash in San Diego, soon after the coast-to-coast flight.

Willa Brown: First African-American women to earn a pilor license in the US

Known as the first black woman to receive her pilot’s license within the United States, Willa Brown also earned many other ‘firsts’ which led to her position as an aviation pioneer. Brown also became the first black woman to serve as a Civil Air Patrol Officer, the first to receive a commercial pilot’s license and the first to run for Congress. She later co-founded the Coffey School of Aeronautics with her husband, Cornelius Coffey, where she taught aviation studies until retirement. Willa Brown died in 1992.

Lee A. Hayes: Member of the Tuskegee Airmen - US military's first African-American fighter pilots

Amagansett resident Lee A. Hayes, one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, battled institutional racism, discrimination and segregation to become part of America’s fighting forces during World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen, organized and trained in Tuskegee, Alabama, made their mark as the U.S. military’s first African-American fighter pilots. A lieutenant in the 385th Army Air Force, Mr. Hayes was one of the pioneers who quietly but demonstrably fought to change the status quo while serving his country.

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