Willa Brown Chappell

Historical Marker #2398 in Glasgow recognizes the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license in the United States. Willa Brown Chappell, a Glasgow native, was influential in breaking through racial barriers in the aviation field through her achievements as pilot, instructor, and activist.

Inspired by the aviatrix Bessie Coleman, Chappell started flying lessons in 1934 at Chicago's Aeronautical University. There, she trained with Cornelius R. Coffey at the racially segregated Harlem Field. Three years later, she earned her private pilot's license and also earned a master's degree from Northwestern University. Chappell also became the first African American Civil Air Patrol officer in 1941 and the first American woman to hold both a master mechanic's certificate and commercial pilot's license in 1943.

Her other contributions to the field include co-founding the National Airmen's Association of America, which promoted the participation of African Americans in aviation and aeronautics. In 1940, Chappell and Cornelius R. Coffey co-founded the Coffey School of Aeronautics. Some of the pilots trained by Chappell became part of the 99th Pursuit Squadron at Tuskegee Institute. These pilots are now usually referred to as the Tuskegee Airmen. She also became a training coordinator for the Civil Aeronautics Administration and a teacher in the Civilian Pilot Training Program.

As an activist, Chappell lobbied for the inclusion of African Americans in the Civilian Pilot Training Program and the Army Air Corps. Her efforts as an advocate for African Americans in the aviation field led to the integration of the United States Armed Forces in 1948. In 1972, Willa Brown Chappell was appointed to the Federal Aviation Administration Women's Advisory Board in recognition of her contributions to aviation in the United States.

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Willa Brown Chappell

Willa Brown Chappell

Drawing of Willa Brown Chappell. Courtesy of the National Archives. View File Details Page

Willa Brown Chappell

Willa Brown Chappell

Photo of Willa Brown Chappell. Courtesy of the National Archives. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Kate Sowada, “Willa Brown Chappell,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed March 24, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/452.

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