>!-- --> The Maker of Pilots: Willa B. Brown - National Archives Foundation

The Maker of Pilots: Willa B. Brown

  • The Maker of Pilots: Willa B. Brown
The Maker of Pilots: Willa B. Brown

Willa B. Brown, February 13, 1943
National Archives, Records of the Office of War Information

Aviator Willa Beatrice Brown (1906–92) achieved numerous “firsts” in her lifetime, many of them earned through her tireless advocacy to integrate aviation programs. Brown began taking flying lessons in 1934, and over the next four years, she earned an MBA at Northwestern University, her Master Mechanic Certificate, and her pilot’s license, making her the first Black woman to receive a license in the United States. Determined to give aspiring pilots opportunities, she and her husband opened the Coffey School of Aeronautics to train both men and women.

A leader and promoter of the Chicago community of Black aviators, Brown, 33 years old when World War II began, seized the opportunity when Congress funded the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) to begin 220 pilot training programs. Authorized as a CAA school in January 1940, Coffey was one of 11 sites for Black men to train as pilots and mechanics for the Air Force program at Tuskegee. Brown achieved another first in 1942 as the first African American woman to receive a commission as a lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol.

After Brown and her husband closed their school, she remained politically active. Her fight for equality in the air was realized when President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948, which ended the segregation of the Armed Forces. Brown continued teaching aeronautics and business subjects in high school until she retired in 1971. In 1972 Brown was the first African American appointed to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Women’s Advisory Board.

Click here to learn more about Willa Brown and her accomplishments!

Past Featured Records
  • Memorial Day: Honoring the Fallen
    Memorial Day: Honoring the Fallen

    Thursday, May 16, 2024 – Wednesday, June 12, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    Memorial Day recognizes and honors the U.S. military personnel who died while serving in the Armed Forces. The first national observance of Memorial Day occurred on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery. General John... Read more

  • The Purple Heart Battalion
    The Purple Heart Battalion

    Tuesday, April 16, 2024 – Wednesday, May 15, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    The 442nd Regimental Combat Team

    None of us thought we were coming home alive. —Lawson Sakai

    Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Roosevelt administration required people of Japanese descent living on the... Read more

  • Frances Perkins: Champion of Workers’ Rights
    Frances Perkins: Champion of Workers’ Rights

    Thursday, February 29, 2024 – Monday, April 15, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    “I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten plain common workingmen.” —Frances Perkins

    Chances are you benefit from the legacy of Frances Perkins,... Read more

  • 70th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
    70th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

    Thursday, February 1, 2024 – Wednesday, February 28, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    Equity in Education: 70 Years Later

    On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court delivered a unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional in... Read more

  • 250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party
    250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party
    Thursday, December 14, 2023 – Wednesday, January 31, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    The Destruction of the Tea

    It wouldn’t be known as the “Boston Tea Party” for another 50 years, but the destruction... Read more