Ames, Iowa Considering Renaming Airport After Black Pilot

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Long-distance flying offered a dramatic way for African American pilots to showcase their flying skills. In 1932 Banning and Thomas C. Allen completed the first transcontinental flight by black airmen. Banning and other long-distance pilots used their flying exploits to promote airmindedness in the African American community. Each successful flight demonstrated the expanding skills of black pilots and promoted the idea that aviation should be open to all, regardless of race. Credit: National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Photo Number: SI 83-99
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Ames, Iowa is considering renaming its airport after the first Black person to receive his pilot’s license and the city council is looking for public input on the plan. The name under consideration would honor James Herman Banning.

Banning’s love of flying was sparked by the Wright brothers’ historic flight at Kitty Hawk. His family moved to Ames in 1919, and he began studying engineering at Iowa State University.

Within the next year, he took his first airplane ride, ended his studies, and decided to pursue aviation. He was denied entry into flight schools because of his race but learned to fly through private lessons at the Raymond Fisher Flying Field in Des Moines.

William J. Powell (far right), a successful owner of several automobile service stations in Chicago, moved to Los Angeles to learn to fly. By the early 1930s Powell had organized the Bessie Coleman Aero Club to promote aviation awareness in the black community. Both men and women were welcome to apply. Powell became a talented visionary and promoter of black involvement in aviation. Credit: National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Photo Number: 9A01548

In 1929, Banning left Iowa to take a chief instructor job at the Bessie Coleman Aero Club aviation school for African Americans in Los Angeles. In 1932, he joined Thomas Cox Allen from Oklahoma City to become the first African Americans to fly coast-to-coast.


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