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Black History Month

  • Celebrating the heroic life of John "Jack" Lyle, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen

    John “Jack” Lyle next to his fighter jet named after his first wife Natalie during WWII.

    “I don’t consider myself a hero because a hero is somebody who does something beyond the call of duty, I never did anything beyond the call of duty, whatever I did I did because I liked it” Fox News Channel May 4th 2018

    On this Black History Month Cockpit USA pays honor to one of the last surviving heroes of the iconic Tuskegee Airmen group of WWII. The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of black soldiers that defied expectations in a segregated military during a time when it was believed African-Americans couldn’t be trained in aviation. Their bravery and contributions helped promote inclusion in the advancement of the United States military.

    Photo of Tuskegee Airmen During WWII

    John “Jack” Lyle died on January 5th, 2019 at 98 years old in his home in the Chicago South Side. Lyle was a child musician, fighter pilot, cop, a sailor, an entrepreneur, and an amateur inventor. His wife Eunice Jackson-Lyle described him as an individual who loved to learn; “his home had a library stocked with encyclopedias and classic novels”. During his last days, Lyle spent his time at the Jackson Park Harbor on Lake Michigan, a perfect location for one of his many passions, sailing.

    “Captain Jack” as he was called by many loved ones was a highly skilled fighter pilot, "We flew 500 feet above the bombers to keep enemy fighters from hitting our guys," he recalled in a 2012 interview with Jet Magazine. "I loved flying, being up in the clouds, the scenery. I flew 26 combat missions, from southern Italy to Austria and southern Germany, over the Austrian Alps." Lyle also mentioned in the interview on how he was fired upon on several times and how he watched at first-hand other bombers being torn apart by the enemy. After the war, Lyle returned to his hometown of Chicago where he enlisted in college to then work as a skyscraper window washer. Lyle found other ventures after window washing; he worked as an insurance salesman to then owning his own fish and chicken restaurant and eventually a tree cutting service company.

    John "Captain Jack" Lyle, at his Chicago home, Friday, Dec. 2, 2011. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

    Lyle’s childhood dream came true in 1957 when he bought his first sailboat. The freedom he felt on the water fulfilled his competitive spirit. His intelligence and pilot experience made him an outstanding sailor, as he was quick to respond to any wind changes upon the horizon. The many years of practice paid off and Lyle eventually became a captain at the Jackson Park Yacht Club. Lyle's focus and love of sailing awarded him the title of  “Yachtsperson of the Year” by the Chicago Yachting Association at the age of 91, becoming the eldest person to receive the honor.

     

    John Lyle on Lake Michigan 2018

    With all of these recognitions none compare to the Congressional Gold Medal bestowed by then president George W. Bush in 2007, which acknowledge Lyle’s achievements and bravery during WWII. All of these milestones never deterred Lyle’s humbleness as he never considered that what he did was award-worthy.

    U.S. Capitol. Arrival. Greeted by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Statuary Hall. Photo opportunity with 300 Tuskegee Airmen prior to Ceremony.

    Today we pay respect an honor the legacy of an American champion. Surviving though his wife and three children, John “Captain Jack” Lyle is part of history. Lyle and many other men during WWII risked their lives to ensure that our freedoms at home were protected during a time of adversity. His service and the service of all Tuskegee Airmen is an important piece of the Civil Rights Movement that influenced unity within the military. Here’s to a man who lived to be free in the skies and on the water, rest in peace John “Captain Jack” Lyle.

  • MCM: James Herman Banning

    The belief that freedom of the sky would help create freedom on the ground made James Herman Banning one of the revolutionaries of his time.

    James Herman Banning James Herman Banning

    Born in 1899 in Oklahoma, Banning grew up with the determination to one day fly despite lack of resources and prejudice. Moving to Iowa where he studied electrical engineering for a little more than a year, his passion for aviation grew. Flight obsessed, he applied to multiple flight schools where he was rejected. Finally he found a pilot, Lt. Fisher, who saw the spirit in Banning and agreed to teach him to fly on the sly.

    Unfortunately, Lt. Fisher died in a plane crash just as Banning was near ready to fly solo. Without Fisher’s help, Banning was faced with finding a plane to fly when no one would lend him a plane to complete his required solo hours.

    Banning, undeterred, bought the engine from Lt. Fisher’s crashed plane and acquired plane and auto scraps to build his own plane, “Miss Ames”. Flying on his homemade plane, he earned his solo hours and was the first African American to receive a pilot’s license from the United States Department of Commerce.

    His love of flight, gave him the idea to become the first African American to fly across the United States, during the Great Depression. With no backers or newspaper coverage, Banning went out to find a way to fund his flight. In 1932, teaming up with mechanic, Thomas Cox Allen, the two came up with the idea to fund their flight along the way by soliciting small donations from the towns they landed in. Whether the donation was a meal, a place to sleep, or gas money, these donors would then inscribe their names on the wing of the plane, called “The Gold Book”. Each contributor was sharing their name in a piece of history, with a total of 65 individual names written on “The Gold Book”.

    "Miss Ames" & pilots James Herman Banning & Thomas Cox Allen "Miss Ames" & pilots James Herman Banning & Thomas Cox Allen

    Starting in Los Angeles, Banning and Allen faced many hardships and adventures on their cross-country flight due to the color of their skin, having no money, and flying a rickety plane. In one city, a whole town searched to find the right car parts to send them on their way after they crashed into a barn. In another city, Allen had to sell his suit for gas money. The last trek of their journey was funded by the Democratic Party in exchange to have Banning and Allen throw “Vote Roosevelt” flyers out of the cockpit as they flew over towns on their way to New York.

    After an exhausting, exciting 21 days of flying they completed their journey with a victory circle around the Statue of Liberty then landed at Valley Stream Airport. However, Banning’s accomplishment was unattributed. As a “race pilot”, his accomplishment was not considered news worthy by the white-owned newspapers.

    After their plane failed in Pennsylvania on the flight back, Banning and Allen were stuck returning to the West coast in the back of a bus.

    Trying to raise money to repair his beloved airplane, “Miss Ames”, Banning decided to fly a number of stunts in an AirTech Air Show. On the day of the show, the Chief Flight Inspector refused to allow Banning to fly one of his planes because he believed Banning couldn’t be trusted due to the color of his skin. An unlicensed white Naval mechanic offered Banning a seat in his friend’s plane, as a passenger. The mechanic wanted to preform the stunt, but during a loop stalled the plane, causing it to crash into the ground, costing Banning his life. In his honor, a group of his friends tried to rescue his beloved plane, only to find out it had been sold for scrap without Banning’s permission or knowledge. The physical record of the journey and “The Gold Book” were all destroyed.

    Banning’s determination, courage and hope for freedom was an inspiration to many other aspiring African American pilots and those who want to feel the freedom of the sky.

  • WCW: Bessie Coleman

    A true pioneer of her time, Bessie Coleman was the first female African American pilot and the first African American to hold an international pilot license.

    Bessie Coleman Bessie Coleman

    Coleman was born in Atlanta, TX in 1892 to a large family. Growing up in poverty, she worked hard to make a living and accomplished all 8 grade of schooling, excelling in math. At 23, she moved to Chicago to live with two of her older brothers. There, she heard tales of flights from pilots who were returning from WWI. Motivated by these stories, her brother’s taunting her and the lack of belief that African American women could fly she set out to find a school that would teach her. After repeated rejects from flight schools in the United States, Coleman began to look else where to achieve her dream.

    In 1920, she set off to Paris to learn to fly at a school that would teach her. After seven months of training in a 27-foot unreliable biplane, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded Coleman her international pilot’s license in June of 1921. She trained further in France, specializing in stunt flying and parachuting.

    Bessie Coleman standing near a plane. Bessie Coleman standing near a plane.

    Returning to the United States, she spent the next five years performing at countless air shows. Defending her and others’ rights and equality, she took a stand against locations that wouldn’t admit members of her race and would refuse to perform there. Coleman used her fame to encourage other African Americans to fly by speaking at schools and churches. She also raised money to found a school for African American aviators, wanting to spread the right of flight to other women and men of her race.

    Bessie Coleman standing on her plane in 1922. Bessie Coleman standing on her plane in 1922.

    Tragically, Coleman and her mechanic, William Wills, took their last flight on April 30, 1926. Preparing for an air show the following day, the plane unexpectedly plummeted, and this brave aviator fell to her death.

    Her spirit and accomplishments have not been forgotten. As a revolutionary figure in history, Bessie Coleman has continued to inspire women and men alike to follow their passions and take flight no matter what may stand in their way.

    “I refused to take no for an answer.” – Bessie Coleman

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