The Legacy Of James Banning, The First Black Pilot To Fly Across America In Less Than 42 Hours

James Banning


As a young boy in Oklahoma, James Herman Banning wished to fly in a plane and experience the thrill of flight. Despite his lofty goals, flight schools refused to accept him because he was black.

According to the University of Houston, he persisted despite the rejection until one day a former army pilot who ran a flight school in Des Moines agreed to train him. He learned how to fly planes at Raymond Fisher’s Flying Field in Des Moines.

He was the first Black aviator to be granted a license by the United States Department of Commerce. From 1922 to 1928, Banning ran the J.H. Banning Auto Repair shop in Ames while pursuing his passion.

Despite being a chief pilot at Iowa, he went to the Bessie Coleman Aero Club in Los Angeles to improve his flying skills. During his time in the Midwest, he was assigned the role of a demonstration pilot flying a biplane named Miss Ames.


Banning made history in 1932 when he flew across America from Los Angeles to Long Island, New York, with the help of another Black pilot named Thomas C. Allen. They rebuilt the engine and added new magnetos and valves from a Nash automobile to the plane they used for this expedition out of junkyard parts. They flew 3,300 miles in 41 hours and 27 minutes over the course of 21 days.

Due to a lack of funds, they had to halt operations on a regular basis to raise funds for gas and oil. For this historic occasion, they flew an orange and black Alexander Eaglerock biplane. They were known as The Flying Hoboes. Banning was motivated to fly cross-country because he believed that freedom in the sky would translate into freedom on the ground. He completed the journey in less than 42 hours after 21 days, which was a remarkable time frame at the time given the challenges he faced.

Banning died in a plane crash during a San Diego air show in 1933. His death was the result of a navy pilot’s bravado. When the pilot began a steep climb, the plane stalled and went into an unrecoverable spin in front of hundreds of spectators. As a result of that act, Banning, who was a passenger in the biplane, was killed.

He was scheduled to fly at the exhibition at Camp Kearney in California. Due to inclement weather, this was postponed for several days. The navy pilot offered to fly him over from Lindbergh Field to count the number of people.

Historians believe that while Banning lost the air battle, he won the ground battle against racial discrimination and prejudice. He was a hero deserving of praise.

Riley and Cora Banning gave birth to Banning in Oklahoma in 1899. In 1919, the family moved to Ames, Iowa, where he spent more than a year studying electrical engineering at Iowa State College.



Written by How Africa News

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