Back to School

Posted on Thu, August 29, 2019

As the summer comes to an end, it’s time for many to go back to school. Most students have mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation at the thought of returning. Imagine how the students at the earliest aviation schools felt!

Wright Flying School

One of the earliest flying schools was established in 1910 by Orville and Wilbur Wright in Alabama, at the current site of Maxwell Air Force Base. They quickly moved operations to their hometown of Dayton, Ohio, at Huffman Prairie Flying Field. Notable students included: Henry H. "Hap" Arnold; Thomas DeWitt Milling; John Rodgers; and his cousin, Calbraith Perry Rodgers.

Three men in hats

Pilots (left to right) Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, John Rodgers, and Thomas Dewitt Milling pose together (in civilian clothes) at the Wright School, Dayton, Ohio, 1911.  NASM USAF-3561AC

Curtiss Flying School

Ever competing against the Wright brothers, Glenn H. Curtiss established the Curtiss Flying School in San Diego, California, in 1910. He expanded to Miami and then his hometown of Hammondsport, New York.

Eight men sitting, one man standing in front of airplane

Pilots pose with Glenn Curtiss in front of a Curtiss Model D at the Curtiss Flying School at Hammondsport, New York, 1910. Left to right, seated on ground: Eugene Godet, Russell [possibly George F.  or R. B. Russell], William Elwood "Gink" Doherty, Glenn H. Curtiss, Curtiss instructor Lt. John W. McClaskey (USMC), Lt. Paul Beck (US Army Air Service), Lt. John Towers (US Navy), Lt. Theodore G. “Spuds” Ellyson (US Navy), and Cromwell Dixon; Beckwith Havens is seen standing behind.  NASM 2004-62660

In 1915, Curtiss expanded flying school operations north of the border to the Long Branch Aerodrome in Toronto, Canada. Instructors included Victor Vernon and John Guy Gilpatric.

Fourteen men stand in front of an airplane

"In which with some of my students I look like a beach-comber, 7th from the left."  Pilot and instructor Victor Vernon poses with student pilots in front of a Curtiss F Boat drawn up on the beach at the Curtiss Aviation School (a.k.a. McCurdy Aviation School) at Toronto Island, Toronto, Canada, circa May 1915. NASM 9A12493-12E

Moisant Aviation School

The Moisant Family—John, Alfred and Matilde—helped spark America's early interest in aviation. John trained at the Bleriot School in France. Alfred opened the Moisant Aviation School in 1911 and Matilde was an active participant, becoming the second woman in the United States to earn her pilot’s license.

Five men and two women watch a man pointing

Matilde Moisant (fourth from left) and Harriet Quimby (third from right) listen with other students as instructor André Houpert (center, with pointer) makes diagram on the ground at the Moisant School of Aviation, Garden City, Long Island, New York.  NASM 78-14184

Sloane School of Aviation

John E. Sloane (who just happened to be Thomas Edison’s son-in-law) developed his own aircraft and then opened his own school of aviation at Dominguez Field, Los Angeles, and Mineola, Long Island, where students trained on his own designs. John Guy Gilpatric, one of the youngest early aviators, actually began his career with Sloane and then moved on to Curtiss.

Two men and a woman in front of a hangar and airplane

Sloane Scout Monoplane (Sloane #1), parked in front of a hangar of the Sloane School of Aviation, Mineola, New York. In front of the aircraft stand (from the left) Guy Gilpatric, Miss A. Firth, and Leonard Warden Bonney (W. L. Barney on caption), c.1911. NASM 00089364

Flying Schools for African Americans

Early American flying schools were not open to African Americans.  Bessie Coleman had to travel to France’s École d'Aviation des Frères Caudron to learn to fly.

Group of students in front of an airplane

General view of a group of flight students at the École d'Aviation des Frères Caudron at Le Crotoy, France, standing beside a Caudron Type G3.  Bessie Coleman is shown sitting on the rear elevator.  NASM 94-13746

In 1931, Cornelius Coffey graduated as part of the first all-black class at the Curtiss-Wright Aeronautical School. He and John C. Robinson returned to Chicago to create the Challenger Pilots Association, opening the first airport built for African Americans in Robbins, Illinois.  With his wife Willa Brown, he then opened the Coffey School of Aeronautics to train African American pilots, both men and women. 

  • group of men poses in front of Engine

    The first all-black class at the Curtiss-Wright Aeronautical School poses beside a Curtiss-Wright engine in 1931 and included Cornelius R. Coffey (right foreground). NASM 91-15484

  • Seven men with an airplane

    A group of students at the Coffey School of Aeronautics assemble near the tail section of Waco UPF-7 trainer to listen to their flight instructor explain a flight problem. NASM 99-15432

  • Man and woman in front of an airplane

    A Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) instructor discusses a flight maneuver with a student at the Coffey School of Aeronautics in Chicago. In addition to being a breakthrough for blacks in aviation, CPTP was a pioneering equal rights program that allowed both men and women to participate. NASM 99-15430

  • Group of Men Working on Engines

    A Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP)-sponsored class in aviation mechanics was offered as part of the Coffey School of Aeronautics curriculum at Chicago's Wendell Phillips High School in 1941. NASM 99-15431

The Advanced Flying School at Tuskegee, Alabama, was the first military school of aviation to train African Americans. The first class of Tuskegee Airmen graduated on March 7, 1942. Benjamin O. Davis, the first commander of the Tuskegee Airmen, became the first African American general in the United States Air Force.

Five men look at an airplane

The original caption for this photograph reads: "The first class of Negro pilots in the history of the U.S. Army Air Corps was graduated at the Advanced Flying School, Tuskegee, Ala., today (March 7, 1942) when ‘wings’ and commissions as second lieutenants in the Air Corps were presented by Major General George E. Stratemeyer, Commanding the Southeast Air Corps Training Center.  Among the members of the class shown here listening to one of their instructors, Lieut. R.M. Long, left, are:  G.S. Roberts, of London, W.Va.; Capt. B.O. Davis of Washington, D.C.; C.H. DeBow of Indianapolis, Ind.; Mac Ross of Dayton, Ohio; and L.R. Curtis of New Rochelle, N.Y.  It is expected that they will be assigned to the 99th Pursuit Squadron, only Negro Squadron in the Air Corps.  Other Negro aviation cadets now in training are expected to be commissioned in the near future." NASM USAF-21001AC

Regardless of their feelings about school, most students will complete the first few weeks and be glad they don’t look like these fellows (though they may feel like it)!

Three dirty men smoke cigarettes

John E. Considine, Ken Pence, and Roger Hanks (left to right) at Stead Air Force Base, Nevada, 1966. This picture was taken after the completion of the escape and evasion/survival portion of a three week survival training school.  NASM USAF-21001AC