Remembering Bessie Coleman
On this day, April 30, in 1926, Bessie Coleman fell to her death. Coleman received her pilot's license in 1921, making her the first African-American in the world to do so. After learning to fly at the Federation Aeronautique Internationale in France, the Texas-born pilot moved back to the U.S. and earned a living barnstorming and performing in air shows. In 1926, she was preparing for a show in her new Curtiss JN-4 Jenny, the same type of plane she's pictured with above (though possibly not the same one, the date and location are unknown on this photo from the National Air and Space Museum archives). Her mechanic William Wills was piloting, while Coleman rode along without a seat belt, so she could scope out places to parachute -- a feat she had recently added to her repertoire. The airplane suddenly went into a nosedive and Coleman was thrown from the cockpit. She fell several hundred feet and died on impact; Wills died a few moments later when the Jenny hit the ground. Later it was found that a wrench had become stuck in the gearbox and caused it to jam. You can read more about Bessie Coleman's life and legacy at this website set up in her honor.
Photo: NASM Archives