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There are numerous African Americans who paved the way to the aviation industry we know today. These pioneers were innovative, forward thinking, determined and compassionate role models. During the month of February, we will spotlight 2 outstanding African Americans weekly who made a difference in aviation.


  • Along with fellow African American friend, John C. Robinson, built a single seat airplane powered by a motorcycle engine.

  • Since blacks were not allowed into aviation programs in the 1920s, Coffey and Robinson taught themselves how to fly in their homebuilt aircraft.

  • After filing a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Curtis-Wright School of Aeronautics in 1929, both Coffey and Robinson enrolled in the aviation mechanics training course. They graduated at the top of their class.

  • In 1932, Coffey became the 1st African American to hold a pilot’s license and an aircraft mechanic’s license.

  • In 1938, The Coffey School of Aeronautics was established by Coffey and his wife, Willa Brown. The school was the 1st African American owned and certified flight school.

  • Many of the Tuskegee Airmen received their initial training at the Coffey School of Aeronautics.

  • Today, there is a navigation intersection named after Coffey which provides guidance to aircraft landing at Chicago’s Midway Airport. The intersection is the “Coffey Fix.”

For more information, check out this link:


WILLA BROWN (1906-1992)

  • Studied under an African American, certified flight instructor, Cornelius Coffey, in 1934 at Chicago’s Harlem Field.

  • Received her aircraft mechanics license from Curtis-Wright Aeronautical University.

  • 1st African American female in the United States to obtain her private pilot license.

  • 1st African American female in the United States to obtain her commercial pilot license.

  • Married Cornelius Coffey and co-founded the Coffey School of Aeronautics.

  • 1st African American officer in the Civil Air Patrol.

  • 1st black woman to serve on the Women’s Advisory Committee of the Federal Aviation Administration.

For more information check out this link:

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