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Posted 5/16/2007 Printable Fact Sheet
American Aerospace Pioneer, Charles Alfred Anderson
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Charles Alfred Anderson

Considered the father of black aviation, "Chief" Anderson was enamored with airplanes and flying from the tender age of six. Since most flight instructors of the day would not take black students, he taught himself to fly at the age of 22 in a used plane purchased with his savings and other funds borrowed from friends and relatives. He earned a private pilot's license in 1929 and a commercial pilot's license in 1932.

During the next two years, Anderson made several history-making long-distance flights accompanied by his friend Dr. Albert E. Forsythe. Together they made the first round-trip transcontinental flight by black pilots, flying from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Los Angeles and back without the aid of landing lights, parachutes, radios, or blind-flying instruments. Much of their navigation on the trip was accomplished by reading a simple roadmap.

The daring twosome also made a long-distance flight to Canada and later staged an elaborate Pan American Goodwill Tour of the Caribbean in their plane "The Spirit of Booker T. Washington." This island-hopping tour included the first-ever flight of a land plane from Miami to the Bahamas and ultimately ended in Trinidad. The Anderson-Forsythe long-distance flights attracted worldwide attention and did much to popularize aviation in the black community.

In 1940 Anderson was hired by the Tuskegee Institute as its Chief Flight Instructor, with the assignment to develop a pilot training program for the school. Tuskegee was one of six black colleges participating in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, a system established by the Civil Aeronautics Authority in 1939 to provide a pool of civilian pilots for wartime emergency. At that time Anderson was the only black aviator in the United States who held a commercial pilot's license.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took a special interest in the Tuskegee flight program and visited the school on April 19, 1941. During her tour she asked Chief Anderson if black people could really fly airplanes. He invited her to fly with him around the field to see for herself. Their 40 minute flight together did much to advance the cause of black aviation, leading to the eventual creation of the "Tuskegee Experiment" and the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Anderson was that program's greatest mentor.

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