Women’s History Month | Willa Brown

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Willa Brown became the first Black woman to be licensed as a private pilot in the U.S. in 1938.

That same year, Brown and her husband Cornelius Coffey opened the Coffey School of Aeronautics at Harlem Airport outside of Chicago. Their school was the first flight school owned and operated by African Americans.

While the Army would not allow the Coffey School of Aeronautics to train pilots for the Army, their school was selected to provide Black trainees for the Air Corps pilot training program at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

This program led to the creation of the Tuskegee Airmen. Brown trained nearly 200 of the men and women who went on to become cadets or instructors. Many of her former students made up the 99th Fighter Squadron, also known as the “Red Tails.”

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