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us history

  • 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.

  • Harriet Quimby: First Female Pilot

    Harriet Quimby was the first woman to earn a pilot's license, in 1911. She began touring with the Moisant International Aviators and performing in air shows. Known for having a flare for drama, she designed her own signature flight suit, made of purple satin with a hood. In Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, Quimby chronicled her flights and the adventures she'd go on. On April 16, 1912, in just 59 minutes, she became the first woman to fly across the English Channel.

    Harriet Quimby in her purple flight suit. Harriet Quimby in her purple flight suit.

    During the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet, on July 1st 1912, Harriet Quimby's plane suddenly pitched forward causing her and William Willard to fall to their deaths. Though she was only 37, Ms Quimby paved the way for women in aviation. From her purple flying suit to her dare devil attitude we admire this early aviator for all her hard work.

  • 99th Pursuit Squadron's Anniversary

    Photo from the National Archives Photo from the National Archives

    Today marks the 73rd Anniversary of the activation of the 99th Pursuit Squadron. The first fighter squadron  comprised of and led by African American pilots and maintainers, also known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The program officially began in June 1941, with 47 officers and 429 enlisted men. The Squadron first flew the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk in North Africa, and eventually flew the P-51 supporting bombing missions into Europe. The 99th would be the first of 4 Fighter Squadrons and 3 medium bomber squadrons of the Tuskegee Airmen . Pioneering Aviators of their time many went on to become future leaders in what became the U.S. Air Force.

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