ATLANTA, Texas — This Saturday's fly-in organized by the female pilots organization The Ninety-Nines will honor a pioneering aviator born in Atlanta.
The Bessie Coleman Fly-In will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Coleman obtaining an international pilot's license. It's free to the public to attend at the city's Hall-Miller Airport, with events starting in the morning with an 8 a.m. sign-up.
Born to a sharecropper father and domestic worker mother, Coleman was the first female African-American pilot and first Native-American pilot to acquire an international license. She earned it from the Federation Aeoronautique Internationale on June 15, 1921, a century ago next week.
In addition to activities about Coleman at the fly-in, girls ages 13 to 19 can register to fly with a South Central Section Ninety-Nine pilot at Ninety-nines.org/letsfly.
Monica Randolph-Graham serves as international director for The Ninety-Nines, an Oklahoma-based international organization of female pilots that started in 1929 and now includes more than 6,000 members in dozens of nations.
"Amelia Earhart was the first president," the director said.
The Saturday fly-in is one of the organization's Let's Fly Now! — First Flight events. The program began in 2018 as a way to introduce girls of flying age to their first flight, Randolph-Graham said.
The local chapter of the Ninety-Nines is the East Texas-based Dogwood 99s, and when she saw that they had a fly-in event planned she suggested a connection to Bessie Coleman.
At the fly-in, lunch will be served to the participating girls and pilots with flights starting around 8:45 a.m., said the Ninety-Nines director. As of last week, 46 girls were registered to fly with a waiting list started. Boys and men are eligible to fly, too, but they will go after the girls.
Part of the director's mission is to promote inclusion and diversity in the organization's programming.
"With Bessie Coleman and the celebration, I was like, what a beautiful opportunity to be able to introduce girls of color, both brown and black, and all girls to aviation," Randolph-Graham said, noting with local aviation training scarce in the area this was a means to introduce flying to the girls.
"While we're flying, we also have two classes that are going on for the girls that are participating in the flight. One's going to be basically on the forces of flight, the parts of the aircraft and flight instruments, and then a second on aviation careers and how to get in aviation," Randolph-Graham said.
The classes and flights will rotate through the morning Saturday. Planes such as Cessna 150s or 172s or Cherokee 180s — all smaller, single-engine planes used for flight training — will be flown.
"It's a first flight," Randolph-Graham said about the girls joining Ninety-Nines member pilots for the aerial experience. "It's an introduction."
For the girls, it's a chance to fly for the first time with women from all over Texas piloting the aircraft.
"It's the most beautiful thing that we get to do as a Ninety-Nine," the director said.
Not only is it fun, but it's also an educational inspiration for the girls who get to fly. The percentage of career women pilots has yet to reach 7%, said Randolph-Graham.
"It's always been kind of a man thing back in the day," she explained, noting Coleman could not even get a private pilot's license in the U.S. She went to France to obtain it.
"The thing that's most important is that girls are able to see that they can do it, that they can fly," Randolph-Graham said.
If people cannot get on the limited wait list at the website, she said, then they can attend and come to the terminal building and tell officials they were unable to register. They can also contact Randolph-Graham via email at the website.
The morning flights are scheduled to finish around noon. A Bessie Coleman reenactor will perform and provide insight into Coleman's life. Aircraft displays will also be available to see for anyone who won't be flying at the event. Attendees who don't fly can watch the reenactor performance, too, or visit the Atlanta Historical Museum, which will open for a short time.
(More info and registration: Ninety-nines.org/letsfly. Hall-Miller Airport is located on West Main Street in Atlanta, Texas.)