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10 famous female aviators

By: Matt Hickman on March 30, 2017, 10:04 a.m.
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Bessie Coleman

In June 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first African-American and Native-American woman to earn a pilot's license. Born in rural Texas, Coleman moved to Chicago in her 20s where she worked as a manicurist and became enamored of her brothers' tales of World War I. Wanting to pursue a career as a pilot, her race and her gender kept her out of flight schools in the U.S., reports the Smithsonian, so she made her way to France where she could enroll in an aviation academy.

When she returned to Chicago, Coleman had difficulty finding working so she made a career as a stunt pilot, performing daredevil tricks for multicultural crowds. Her awe-inspiring aerial acrobatics earned her the nickname "Queen Bessie." She died at age 34, 10 minutes into a practice run, when the biplane piloted by her mechanic went into a nosedive. Coleman wasn't wearing her seat belt and was thrown from the plane.

Although Coleman was never able to open the aviation school she dreamed of, many clubs and tributes continue in her honor.