Wright Brothers – Famous Aviators

Articles relating to the famous aviators of the world other than the Wright Brothers.

Ralph Johnston was a member of the first group of five members of the Wright brother’s exhibition team. He had the personality for such an adventure. At the age of 15 he became a trick bicyclist. His specialty was riding his bike up a springboard and performing a flip in midair. His tolerance for risk may have been his downfall. He would die in an airplane crash while performing within six months.

The team’s debut in an air show was at the Indianapolis Speedway in June 13, 1910. Two weeks later Johnstone set a new Canadian endurance record in Montreal. He was making a reputation as a fearless flyer.

The high risk flying began to take its toll. In August at Asbury Park, New Jersey, Johnstone flying a Model B Flyer for the fist time and crashed into parked cars while landing. Arch Hoxsey, another team member, had an accident that injured spectators at the Wisconsin State Fair.

Orville and Wilbur were becoming concerned about the risk their flyers were taking. Wilbur wanted plan flying and wrote a letter warning them. “I am very much in earnest when I say that I want no stunts and spectacular frills —.”

The admonition had little effect as they continued their stunts. The competitive juices flowed too strongly.

In October, Johnstone was sent to Richmond, Virginia to perform at their county fair. He was the current celebrity on the team, holding world’s altitude record of 9,714 feet.

The highlight of the flying exhibition at the fair was to be Richmond’s Mayor, David Richardson, flying as a passenger with Johnstone on the third day of the three-day exhibition. Richardson decided to make the flight over his wife’s objection.

On the day of the Mayor’s planned flight Johnstone’s program of flight was conservative and he had experienced no problems. He promised to be careful with the Mayor and not try anything fancy.

The only worry among the 50,000 spectators was whether Johnstone could get the airplane off the ground with the overweight mayor as a passenger. Johnstone assured everyone that there wasn’t any problem and there wasn’t.

Before being strapped in his seat, Mayor Richardson announced to the crowd: “I’m not taking this trip up into the air for notoriety, but as the personal representative of Richmond.” He continued, “I’m going up to keep her in the front rank in the march of progress.”

The flight was going well as Johnstone circled 50 feet over the grandstand. Then the unexpected happened. The mayor caught up in excitement raised his free hand to wave. His arm hit the exposed fuel line with such force that it broke. Immediately the engine stopped.

The airplane glided down to about 20-feet above the ground then crashed. The crowd was silent as people rushed to the wreck.

Fortunately, it looked worse than it was. Both men were stunned but not seriously hurt.

Johnstone and the team went on to fly in other flying exhibitions. The dangerous stunts continued and so did the accidents. Johnstone performed what was called the “Dive of Death.” He would dive from 1,000-feet with a pullout at the last possible minute.

On November 17 Johnstone’s flirting with death came to an end in Denver. He went into a spiraling dive and never pulled out. His body was smashed beyond recognition. He was the first American pilot to die in an airplane crash.

Before fellow team member Arch Hoxsey could reach the wreck, spectators had stripped Johnstone’s body of his gloves and other clothing items.

Hoxsey died of similar circumstances as Johnstone six weeks later in Los Angeles.

The cause of the crash could have been Johnstone falling out of seat during his dive. Airplanes of that period didn’t have seat belts. Harriet Quimby, the first woman to fly the English Channel was thrown out of her airplane over Boston Harbor and killed in 1912.

Profits began to decline while death and injury among pilots continued to decline. Five of nine aviators on the Wright payroll died in the crash of Wright airplanes. The Wrights dissolved the exhibition team in November 1911.

Reference: “With a Wave to the crowd, mayor nearly said farewell, by Larry Hall, Richmond-Times Dispatch, March 1, 2006.

Einstein’s Wing Flops

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Famous Aviators

Einstein once took an interest in aviation and tried to design an improved wing. He wrote a technical article in August 1916 in which he proposed a new shape for wings that he hoped would improve lift.

His proposal was a wing with a large mid-chord arch.

His paper began with the question, “Where does lift come from that allows airplanes and birds to fly?” To answer the question, he searched the existing published literature on the subject and concluded that not even a primitive answer was to be found.

He evidently didn’t have the Wright brothers’ 1902 wind tunnel data or he probably would have pursued a different idea.

Einstein used Bernoull’s theorem as a basis for the design of his improved wing. Lift is created by the pressure differential created by the flow of air over a wing.

Bernoulli’s Theorem developed by Daniel Bernoulli, an eighteenth century scientist discovered that as the velocity of a fluid (such as air) increases, its pressure decreases.

In the case of an airplane, the theorem postulates that the wing is shaped to force the air flowing over the upper surface of a cambered wing to flow faster to cover a longer distance than the air flowing over the lower surface. The faster air on the top surface creates a pressure differential resulting in an upward force on the wing.

The hump on the top of the wing surface, Einstein thought, would create an even longer path for the air to travel, resulting in additional lift.

Einstein’s proposal for a wing design was given to Paul Ehrhardt who had flown for two-minutes as a passenger with Orville in 1909. He was the technical manager of an aircraft company in Berlin. He forwarded the proposal to his engineering group for evaluation.

Engineering consulted with Einstein and subsequently compared 99 conventional airfoils in a wind tunnel with Einstein’s foil. All but two the conventional foils had higher lift-to-drag ratios.

This was not a result that Einstein envisioned.

Einstein’s proposal didn’t work because the Bernoulli explanation of lift that he relied upon is incorrect when applied to airplane wings even though it still can be found in popular literature.

A better explanation of lift is based on Newton’s Third Law that postulates that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Issac Newton has been regarded for over 300 years as the founding exemplar of modern physical science.

As applied to a wing, the thrust of the airflow passing over the trailing edge of a wing is bent downward. The downward thrust of the air creates an equal upward force that is lift.

Other determinants of lift in addition to the shape of the wing include the size of the wing, velocity of the air flowing over the wing, the density of the surrounding air and the angle of attack.

Following the German wind tunnel tests on the Einstein wing, they constructed a full-size prototype airplane consisting of a WW I German biplane with “Enstein’s wings” attached.

Ehrhardt decided to be the test pilot. After a long takeoff run, the plane went in to an unintended roll as he took-off. Ehrhardt said that he landed quickly and safely and “was overjoyed to find himself on firm ground and still in one piece.”

Ehrhardt further elaborated on his experience, saying that the plane was hard to control tending to “waddle while flying something akin to the flight of a pregnant duck.”

Einstein accepted the failure of his wing design with good humor. He wrote to Ehrhardt, “That is what can happen to a man who thinks a lot, but reads little.

The year 2005 is the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s extraordinary year in which he published five scientific papers that fundamentally changed our knowledge of space, time, light and matter. His genius made possible the development of computers, satellites, telecommunication, lasers, television and nuclear power. Not bad for someone who never learned to drive a car.

The year 2005 also is important time for the Wright brothers and to society. It is the 100th anniversary of the time when they developed the first practical airplane. It took the genius of Wilbur and Orville to accomplish that.

Reference: Einstein’ Wing, Air & Space, April/May 2005.

Harriet Quimby

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Famous Aviators

Harriet Quimby was a female pioneer in aviation. She was the first woman to receive a pilot’s license, the first woman to fly solo over the English channel and the seventh woman to be enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

She was flamboyant, ambitious, beautiful, daring and tragically the first woman to die at an aviation meet.

Harriet loved anything associated with speed. In October 1910 she heard about an international air show to be held at Belmont Park. She decided to attend and while there she met daredevil pilot John Moisant. She was excited when he won a race around the Statue of Liberty and asked him to teach her to fly.

“Flying looks easy,” she said to Moisant. “I believe I could do it myself and I will.”

Her self-confidence came from a mother who didn’t want her daughter to grow up depending on a man. Harriet’s father had gone into bankruptcy as a poor farmer while she was growing up in Coldwater, Michigan.

The family subsequently moved to Oakland, California, searching for a better life. Harriet thrived in the freer lifestyle of California. She tried acting for a while, but found her niche in journalism, writing articles for the San Francisco Bulletin in 1890.

Her boundless energy caused her to travel to New York City, the journalism capital of the world, in 1903. When she arrived she had no job or place to live. It wasn’t long before she found a journalism job as a drama critic for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, a top magazine of the day.

Soon after, she engaged in activities usually reserved for men; such as driving and fixing her own automobile, using a typewriter and photographing her own pictures to accompany her articles.

Her writing expanded to subjects as controversial as exposing child neglect. She even wrote seven movie scripts that were made into movies, another first for a woman.

She convinced Leslie’s to finance her flying lessons in return for writing articles about her flying experiences. She wanted to obtain her lessons at the Wright brother’s flying school in Dayton, but the school didn’t accept woman students.

In a seeming contradiction, Katharine Wright, the Wright brothers’ sister was active in the suffrage movement and Milton, her father, and Orville contributed money to the movement. They even marched through downtown Dayton in behalf of the movement.

The Wright flying school did later admit women for pilot training and graduated three of them before the school closed.

Harriet turned to Moisant’s Aviation School on Long Island, who accepted her in 1911. John Moisant was no longer at the school because he was killed in an air meet in New Orleans.

Her instruction consisted of 33 lessons with a little over 4 1/2 hours flying time. On July 31st she flew her first flight test, performing everything right except that she over shot the landing, coming down 40 feet outside the required 160 foot circle. Her flight instructors thought that would discourage her and she would give up.

They didn’t really know Harriet. The next day she tried again and set an accuracy record for her landing. She triumphantly walked over to one of the officials, looked him in the eye and said, “Well, I guess I get my license!”

She did, thus becoming the first American woman to receive a pilot’s license. Earlier that year, a French woman was the first women in the world to receive a license.

She was not a feminist by any means; she opposed confrontation. She viewed her ability to fly as demonstrating through example that woman can do almost anything men can do.

Leslie’s appointed her Aviation Editor and instituted a new department devoted to the subject of aviation. Her articles on her flying experiences in Leslie’s sold out. Some of her articles had titles such as “How a Woman Learns to Fly” and “How I Won My Aviator’s License.”

She created a new fashion style for woman in aviation. The normal flying suits were not flattering to woman. Her outfit consisted of a one-piece suit made of purple satin with knee-length pants and a satin hood. Her accessories were flying goggles, elbow-length gloves and high-laced black boots. She became known as the “Dresden China Aviatrix.”

She joined an exhibition group and won her first cross-country race, winning $600. She followed that up by winning $1,500 for a night flight under a full moon.

Similar to the Wright brothers, she would not fly on Sunday. In her case it was at the request of her mother.

Only three months after earning her flying license, she decided she wanted a new challenge. She decided that she wanted to be the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel. She ordered a new airplane for the event, a 50-hp French Beloit monoplane.

Three years earlier, Louis Bleriot had won the London Daily Mail’s 1,000-pound prize for the first successful crossing and became an instant French hero.

By the time Harriet arrived in Britain, the weather had turned bad and her plane had arrived late. The two unexpected events deprived her from having an opportunity to practice flying her new plane. But, she was impatient and concerned that some other woman might make the attempt before she did.

Finally there was a break in the weather on April 16, 1912 so she decided to go even though there were reports of fog near the French coast. The only instrumentation she had was a compass that a friend gave her.

She put on an extra raincoat and took off from Dover at 5:30 a.m. It wasn’t long before she hit the fog bank and couldn’t see where she was going. To make matters worse, her plane had an open cockpit that allowed oil from the engine to blow back in her face.

She flew up to 6,000 feet but that didn’t help. She was forced to rely on her compass that she held cradled between her knees. When she finally broke through the fog, she was 25 miles south of her destination at Calais. She decided to land safely on the sandy beach at Hardelot. The flight had taken one hour and 9 minutes.

It was a remarkable achievement, but she received little recognition for the event. It was her fate that the Titanic disaster, that took 1,573 lives, occurred two days before her flight. The news on the Titanic pushed her achievement off the front page.

That didn’t discourage Harriet, she was off to another air meet two months later. She was offered $100,000 to participate in a Boston air meet, which would take place over Boston Harbor.

At the meet, promoter William Willard asked her for an airplane ride in her 70-hp Bleriot, one of the latest models of military monoplanes. She agreed, but then his son wanted to go also. They decided to settle the matter by a flip of the coin. Willard senior won. As fate would have it, that gamble was one too many.

William Willard weighed some 200 pounds, which stretched the weight limit for the fragile Beloit plane. There was no problem with the take-off on July 1, 1912, but then at about 2,000 feet Willard did something surprisingly stupid – he stood up. No one knows for sure why; maybe it wanted to say something to Harriet. The Beloit plane is configured so the passenger sat in a separate cockpit behind the pilot, so Harriet couldn’t see what was happening.

Then he tumbled out of the plane. There were no seat belts in the plane, which was common for airplanes at that time. It permitted easier access to the engine that often caught on fire or needed some adjustment.

Harriet was confronted with a tail that rose suddenly with the shift in the center of gravity without knowing the cause. She fought to control the plane that was now pitching violently. Then she too was catapulted out of the plane.

To the horror of some thousands of spectators, the two tumbling bodies hit the shallow muddy waters of the bay some 300 feet from the shore. They were both killed instantly. She was 37 years old.

Ironically Harriet had earlier written an article on the dangers of flight in which she advocated the use of seat belts. In another article, Good Housekeeping Magazine, she wrote, “Only a cautious person – man or woman – should fly. I never mount my machine until every wire and screw has been tested. I have never had an accident in the air. It may be luck, but I attribute it to the care of a good mechanic.”

In another twist of fate, If she had been flying a Wright airplane, Willard would have been sitting next to her instead of behind and the accident would probably not have happened. The fact that she was not using a Wright plane most likely goes back to her not being able to attend the Wright flying school.

There were other explanations given in addition to the one I have provided for the cause of the crash such as adverse weather and mechanical problems. I believe the one I provided is the cause that is most believable.

The Boston Post, still not accepting that a woman could fly, gave her faint praise by giving her honorary male status by writing, “She took her chances like a man and died like one.”

She lived life to the fullest and in the process she helped open the door to women to fulfill their life’s potential.

Now, some 100 years later she is remembered on a 50 cent U.S. Postal Stamp and only recently by induction into the U. S. Aviation Hall of Fame. There is a brief description of her achievements on a historic sign near her grave in Kensico Cemetery, Westchester, N.Y.

The headline on the New York Times read: “Miss Earhart Forced Down at Sea, Howland Isle Fears; Coast Guard Begins Search.”

She was one of the world’s most famous pilots and now she had disappeared on a around-the-world flight on a leg from New Guinea to tiny Howland Island in the Pacific ocean.

To this day she has not been found and no one knows for sure what happened to her, the airplane, or her navigator.

There has been plenty of conjecture, some of it bizarre, such as the claim that she was on a spy mission and had been captured by the Japanese.

Roy Conyers Nesbit has written a new book: Missing Believed Killed, that offers a plausible explanation of what really happened. My article is based on his extensive research.

Amelia first burst on the national scene in 1928 when she became the first woman to fly the North Atlantic from New York to London. She never flew the airplane. She was a passenger and log keeper. But that didn’t minimize her achievement to the public.

She was important enough to stand next to Orville Wright during the dedication of the cornerstone of the Wright Memorial at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1928. The occasion was held on the 25th anniversary of the Wrights’ first flight.

Her place in history was assured in 1937 when she became the first woman to fly solo across the North Atlantic. She flew her red Vega from Newfoundland to a field of cows near Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Her husband called her “Lady Lindy” after Charles Lindbergh who had accomplished the feat ten years earlier.

She went on to establish many flying records including cross-country speed records and was the first person to fly solo over the Pacific from Hawaii to California.

By the time she was 38 years old, she knew that her risky career would be coming to an end in the near future, so she wanted to do something adventurous to cap off her career.

She decided to set a new record by flying around the world following a course that would keep her close as possible to the equator.

The feat would require a larger and faster airplane than her single engine Vega. She chose a twin-engine Lockheed 10-E Electra.

The Electra was modified to hold about 1,200 US gallons of fuel by adding 6 fuel tanks in the fuselage and 6 tanks in the wings. This gave a theoretical range of 4,000 miles in still air at airspeed of 145-mph and an altitude of 4,000 feet.

It was known from the beginning that the long flight, which included several over the water segments including the 2,556-mile nonstop flight to Howland Island, would require a navigator to help Amelia.

She was not a knowledgeable navigator and couldn’t perform celestial navigation because of her mathematical inadequacy. Her technique up to this time had been to fly a compass course as accurately as possible and then try to pick up visual landmarks. When flying across oceans she headed toward large land masses which she was bound to reach eventually.

Initially two men were selected for the navigation job. The first was Captain Harry Manning, the commander of the USS, President Roosevelt. The other was Frederick J. Noonan, an experienced ship and aerial navigator who served as a navigator for the Martin 130 China Clipper that flew from California to Hong Kong.

Another man, Paul Mantz, was hired to teach Amelia how to fly the twin engine Electra. When fully loaded, Amelia’s Electra weighed over 3,300 pounds more than the standard Electra. The heavier airplane required very careful handling, especially on take-off.

Amelia soloed in 1921 after 10 hours of instruction. Some pilots said she lacked an instinctive feel for the controls of an airplane. Mantz was concerned with her tendency to jockey the throttles on take-off to correct the slight swings in yaw instead of using the rudder. She did practice diligently under Mantz’s guidance, including spending time in a Link Trainer.

Additionally, it was decided that Mantz would serve as co-pilot on the first leg of the round-the-world flight from California to Hawaii to provide additional tutoring.

The flight to Hawaii was without incident. The next morning they were to fly to Howland Island. Then disaster struck. The machine ground-looped on take-off. It was a miracle that the fully fuelled airplane didn’t catch on fire, but no one was hurt.

They returned to California and sent the airplane back to Lockheed for rebuilding. The repairs took two months and cost $14,000.

The weather underwent a seasonal change so it was decided to make the second attempt flying in a reverse direction to the east. Fred Noonan was still available to make the flight.

One other change was made that later would have tragic consequences. Amelia had the 250 foot trailing aerial removed that was used for obtaining bearings on 500 kilohertz frequency (kHz) that was normally transmitted in Morse code from ground stations. She didn’t like the bother of winding in and out the antenna and neither she nor Noonan were good at Morse code.

She began their second attempt of flying around the world on May 20, 1937. They left Oakland and thence forth traveled to Tucson; New Orleans; Miami; Puerto Rico; Venezuela; Dutch Guinea; Brazil; Senegal; French West Africa; French Chad; Anglo-Egyptian Sudan; Italian Eritrea; India; Burma; Singapore; Java; Australia and on June 29, Lae, New Guinea. They had flown 22,000-miles since leaving Oakland.

While in Australia, Amelia decided to leave the parachutes behind to save weight and because they would be of no use flying over the Pacific. That may have been another mistake.

Their next destination was Howland Island, a small island that was two miles long and a half a mile wide setting about 20 feet above sea level at its highest point.

Two boats were stationed along the route. One, a tug, the USS Ontario, was placed at the halfway point and the other, the US Coast Guard cutter Itasca was positioned near Howland. The Itasca was equipped to receive and transmit radio bearings and provide a visual smoke signal.

Amelia decided to reduce weight further by unloading all surplus equipment and baggage and possibly even the survival kit.

Several witnesses reported that Noonan drank heavily up to the night before take-off. He had a reputation of being a heavy drinker.

At 1000 hours local time (0000 GMT) on July 2nd, Amelia took off and headed for Howland Island, 2,556 miles away. (GMT means Greenwich Mean Time and is the time that is measured from the Greenwich Meridian line located at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England). Her estimated time of arrival at Howland was 1800 hours GMT that was a few minutes after sunrise. On the way she would travel through several time zones.

In her last letter to her husband she wrote:

“Not much more than a month ago, I was on the other side of the Pacific, looking westward. This evening, I looked eastward over the Pacific. In the fast moving days that have intervened the whole width of the world has passed behind me – except this broad ocean. I shall be glad when we have the hazards of its navigation behind us.”

Throughout her flight she transmitted messages every half-hour using her call-sign of KHAQQ, not knowing whether she was heard. The estimated range of the signal was up to 400 miles, but sometimes could be heard much further.

The early part of the flight was in daylight, where being able to see islands helped navigation. The night flight was mainly over open sea and Noonan navigated using stars and planets.

The radio operator at Lae heard Amelia clearly during the early part of the flight. She gave her first position report at about 850 miles out. The Electra was making an average ground speed of about 120-mph, indicating a stronger headwind than expected.

The USS Ontario, stationed at the halfway point never received a signal. An operator on the Island of Nauru, well to the North of the ship, reported receiving a signal but couldn’t make out what she said.

The next transmission anyone heard was on the Itasca stationed near Howland for the purpose of helping guide the Electra to a safe landing. The message came at 1744 hours GMT, only 16 minutes before the Electra was due to arrive.

Amelia indicated she was located about 200 miles out. The weather was not good. There were dark clouds to the northwest of the Itasca and visibility was poor. Amelia, flying under the cloud cover, would not be able to see the smoke signal from the ship from a long distance.

The next message was at 1817 hours GMT. Amelia asked for a bearing and gave her position as about 100 miles out. This was the first indication that something was amiss. She could not have flown 100 miles in the 30 minutes since her last transmission.

At 1912 hours GMT, Amelia transmitted:

“We must be on you now but cannot see you. But gas is running low. Being unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.”

At 1929 hours GMT, the operators on the ship heard Amelia say,

“We are circling but cannot hear you.”

The problem with her transmission was that she was transmitting on 7,000 kHz, which was not a frequency that bearings could be taken. The operators on the ship were expecting bearings on 500 kHz, which is the frequency the trailing antenna would have transmitted if Amelia hadn’t removed it earlier in the trip.

It appears that Amelia was unable to hear any voice transmissions sent to her. She never was adept with the operation of her radio and this was a serious problem now.

At 2014 hours GMT, she sent her last message:

“We are on a line of position 157 to 337. Will repeat this message on 6,210 kcs. Wait, listening on 6,210 kcs. We are running north and south.”

The operators on the ship said her voice was heard loud and clear but broken and frenzied.

Amelia’s last desperate message was received 20 hours 25 minutes after take-off from Lae. The estimated range for the 950 gallons of gas on the Electra was 20 hours 13 minutes. They must have crashed a few minutes later somewhere not too far from Howland.

According to the skipper of the Itasca, the sea was very rough with up to 6-foot waves. Later arrivals reported snow showers and severe icing at the Equator.

Paul Mantz believes Noonan made a navigation error and missed the island. He believes that they came down under two possibilities. One was that Amelia tried to land too high above the water and stalled, killing both of them.

The other possibility was that she made a bad judgment and flew into a high roller of a wave with the same result.

If they had landed in the water safely, the Electra would have sunk within a minute or two based on experience with the airplane in WW II.

They originally carried emergency equipment on the airplane including a rubber dinghy, lifebelts, flares, flare-pistol, kite and rations. Unfortunately, the likelihood is that this emergency kit was removed earlier to save weight.

The most likely crash site is within 30 miles West of Howland Island

Amelia anticipated that she might someday crash and be killed. She wrote her own epitaph several years before her last flight:

“Hooray for the last great adventure! I wish I had won, but it was worth while anyway.”

The Tuskegee airmen escorted bombers into Europe during World War II and equality into America.

A representative group of the famous Tuskegee airmen spoke of their proud heritage to a group of boys and girls at recent meeting of the NASA sponsored Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) in Warren County, NC.

Tuskegee Airman

The Tuskegee Air Corps training program was initiated at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1941 at the instigation of General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold. It was not a popular move at the time. Many Army Air Corps officers viewed the program with suspicion and amusement.

Arnold was not easily intimidated. He was one of first pilots taught to fly by the Wright brothers at Huffman Prairie Field in 1911 and qualified to fly with less than four hours flying time. He went on to become a five-star general and commanded the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II. Huffman Field is now a part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The first five Black-Americans to qualify as military pilots graduated from Tuskegee in March of 1942. Army Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. a West Point graduate, was one of the graduates. After graduation he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and become commanding officer of the all black 99th Fighter Squadron.

In 1944, a significant event occurred that made the Tuskegee Airman famous. Bombers flying over Northern France and Germany without fighter escort were being shot down at a high rate, 114 in February. Davis volunteered his group to provide the high-risk fighter escort.

Davis’s group was now designated the 332nd and was equipped with P-47 Thunderbolts. On delivery of the airplanes the ground crew painted the tails red and from then on they were known as the Red Tail Squadron.

The Davis’s Red Tails lost very few bombers during 200 escort missions. They were so successful that bomber pilots requested them as their escorts. Representative of their success was this message from a bomber commander: “Your formation flying and escort was the best we have ever seen.” Davis, now Colonel Davis, received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

By the end of World War II, almost 1,000 Black pilots had earned their wings during the time frame of 1941 to 1946. More than half served overseas. Many earned Air Medals in combat and more than 150 earned Distinguished Flying Crosses. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. would earn a general’s star, becoming the first black Air Force general.

Because of their distinguished record, when the war ended, the War Department was pressured to reassess their segregated military policy. President Truman subsequently issued Executive Order 9981 that integrated the Air Force (the Air Force became a separate service in September 1947).

Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, is flourishing today with more than 200,000 visitors a year. Booker T. Washington founded the school. Agricultural chemist George Washington Carver discovered 300 uses for peanuts there. Famous black poet and friend of Orville Wright Paul Dunbar wrote the school alma mater.

The National Park Service is building the $29 million Tuskegee Airman Memorial that’s expected to draw 400,000 visitors annually after opening in 2007.

Mr. Leonard Hunter, President of the Tuskegee Chapter in Goldsboro, NC provided a strong message to SEMAA students. He told them (majority of which were black) that if the airmen could succeed despite the handicaps of discrimination, they could succeed now with the opportunities they have. “It would be a disservice to yourself and your parents if you didn’t. You can do it!”

Mrs. Lavon-De Driver, wife of one of the attending airman and historian of the chapter, didn’t leave the girls out of the discussion by indicating that there were many black woman involved in providing support services for the Tuskegee airmen during the war.

Update: The Tuskegee Airman were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in early 2006. There were about 40 Tuskegee airman from North Carolina during World War II.

About SEMAA:

SEMAA is an exciting science program featuring hands-on fun activities. NASA substantially funds the program’s curriculum and a computer-enhanced laboratory. Unfortunately, budgets cuts at NASA may result in the termination of the program.

Three repeating Saturday sessions are offered during the academic school year. Each session last eight weeks. In addition there is a summer camp during June. All sessions are free. All kids at the Warren County site with perfect attendance are provided with an expense free trip to Washington, D.C. during the summer. As if that wasn’t enough, kids are given a free airplane ride by the EAA.

Check out the SEMAA web site, http://www.semaa.net.