Women in Aviation HomeAviation for Women Magazine

1995 Pioneer Hall of Fame

Bessie Coleman

Bessie ColemanBessie Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas in 1892. Although she was an avid reader, she worked as a laundress and briefly attended Langston University in Oklahoma. After moving to Chicago, she was inspired by the World War I pilots. She became interested in flying and became convinced she should be up there, not just reading about it. She started looking for a flying school but what she didn't realize was that she had two strikes against her: She was a woman and she was black.

She heard through her friend, sponsor and mentor, Robert S. Abbott (founder and editor of the Chicago Defender newspaper) that Europe had a more liberal attitude toward women and people of color. So she learned to speak French and earned enough money to go to Paris to get her license. She would not let go of her dream and earned her license on June 15, 1921, from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. She became the first African-American to earn an international pilot's license. Upon her return to the United States, she worked to increase the number of African-American pilots. One of her first flying exhibitions was at Chicago's Checkerboard Field, before a crowd which included some of her friends. Dapper Bessie wore a military-type uniform, complete with puttees and a Sam Brown belt, so that she looked like many other daredevil pilots of the era. For the next four years, she flew at shows whenever she could, and in between taught aviation for African-Americans. On October 12, 1922, she flew at the Tri-state Fair in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Jacksonville, Florida Negro Welfare League was sponsoring an air show on May Day 1926 and asked Bessie to perform. Unfortunately, she was killed before the show while testing her plane. No one was sure exactly what happened, as accident investigations were not so thorough in those days. It is known, however, that she fell more than a mile to her death.

Although her dream of establishing a flying school for African-American students never materialized, the Bessie Coleman Aero groups were organized after her death. On Labor Day, 1931, these flying clubs met in Chicago and sponsored the first all-black air show in America, which attracted 15,000 spectators. This event remains an important annual venue. In 1990 a street in Chicago was renamed Bessie Coleman Drive. In 1995 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in her honor.

Eileen Collins

Eileen CollinsLt. Col. Eileen Collins (now Colonel Eileen Collins.) was selected by NASA as an astronaut in 1990. In February 1995, she was the first female to pilot a shuttle mission. Collins graduated in 1979 from Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training and was a T-38 instructor pilot until 1982. The following two years she was a C-141 aircraft commander and instructor pilot at Travis AFB, Calif. She spent the following year as a student with the Air Force Institute of Technology. Collins was then assigned to the Air Force Academy in Colorado, where she taught mathematics and was a T- 141 instructor pilot. She was selected for the astronaut program while attending the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, Calif. from which she graduated in 1990. At the time of her induction, Collins had logged more than 4,000 hours in 30 different types of aircraft.

Wally Funk

Wally FunkWally Funk graduated first in her flight training class at Stephens College, and went on to excel in the flying curriculum at Oklahoma State University. At age 20, she was the first woman ever hired to flight instruct at Fort Still, Oklahoma. In the 1960s, Funk was one of 25 women chosen to undergo preliminary astronaut testing. In 1971, she became the first female FAA inspector and, in 1973, became the first female in the FAA's System Airworthiness Analysis Program. Funk moved on to the NTSB in 1974, where she became one of the Board's first female air safety investigators. She has more than 13,600 hours of flying and has dedicated herself to educating pilots on safety and common sense in flying.


Jean Ross Howard

Jean Ross HowardJean Ross Howard learned to fly in 1941 through the government's Civilian Pilot Training Program. In 1954 she became the 13th woman in the world to receive a helicopter rating. She has participated in three international helicopter championships and both U.S. and international fixed-wing air races. An AIA public affairs specialist for 41 years, she is noted for her efforts in establishing heliports in emergency medical services. Founder of the Whirly-Girls, Inc., she has written extensively on aviation and authored the book All About Helicopters.



Nadine Jeppesen

Nadine JeppesenNadine Jeppesen was hired by United Airlines as a "stewardess" to tend to passengers aboard their flights. In 1936, she married Capt. Jeppesen and together they established a flight chart business, producing the Jeppesen Airway Manual. Working out of the basement of their home in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jeppesen hired cartographers, helped design and write the copy for promotional procedures, and handled a myriad of other details associated with running the company. She continued to work as secretary/treasurer after they moved to Denver in 1941, and held that position until the company was sold in 1961.

Pioneer Hall of Fame

WAI Pioneer Homepage
Past Pioneers (by name)
Nomination Information
"100 Women" Script
WAI and the WASP

Past WAI Pioneers

Women in Aviation, International is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.
Materials on this web site are copyright ©1996-2014 by Women in Aviation, International Privacy Statement