Gloria Brame, Ph.D.

Queen Bess: World's Greatest Woman Flyer

Filed By Gloria Brame, Ph.D. | March 10, 2011 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Gay Icons and History
Tags: feminism, lesbian interest, women's history, women's studies

Born in 1892, the beautiful, tough, professional aviator Bessie "Queen Bess" Coleman was the first African American in the world to attain a pilot's license. At age 30, she was considered "the world's greatest woman flyer." Her tragic death at only 34 ended a fierce and brilliant career. It is so sad to think of the other firsts she might have achieved had she lived.

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When you say "African American" do you mean "black?" As in, did other black women (not from the USA) get pilot's licenses before her?

She was the first person of color to obtain a pilots license. She tried to learn how to fly in the US but no one would teach her because she was black and also because she was a woman. She went to Paris where she obtained a full pilots license as well as parachute qualification and came back to the states. Sadly, there were not a lot of jobs for pilots back then to start with. With racial segregation as well as sexism as a societal norm she ended up barnstorming and doing parachute drops. She became well known among the then racially segregated entertainment world.

Sadly, she met her demise in Jacksonville Florida.
The official explanation was that a wrench was left in her Curtiss’s reduction gear for her engine. That it caused her to lose control of the aircraft, that it did an aileron roll and she fell out. She died on impact, the aircraft had a journalist in the back seat. He died when the plane crashed.
The unofficial explanation was a white man was jilted by his wife who had gone to be with her. That he had damaged some of the flight control wires and the pilots lap belt. He was questioned by police, but released.

I believe the unofficial explanation more than the official one.
-Those trained to fly in France at the time were qualified to use the parachute prior to learning how to fly. Also, the first rule of flying at the time was to buckle yourself in. A lot of pilots were lost in WWI because of lack of parachutes and lap belts, so it became major lessons.
-I work on aircraft, the loss of the reduction gear box would mean the aircraft lost power, not lost control. If the flight control wire to the ailerons were damaged, it could lead to an uncontrolled aileron roll and a crash.