Tribute to Chief Anderson

 

Charles Alfred Anderson
(1907-1996)

 

A TRIBUTE TO A LEGEND
Charles Alfred "Chief' Anderson
"Known as the father of Black Aviation"
He joined with Ed Gibbs to found Negro Airmen International

Chief personally trained over 1000 pilots at Moton Field in Tuskegee, including two of his better-known students General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. and General Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr. The 332nd Fighter Group, formed entirely of Tuskegee pilots, was one of the most successful fighter groups during WWII, and they have the lone distinguish of being the only fighter group to never lose a bomber to enemy fighters while they were flying as escort. That kind of feat required strict discipline and superb flying, both of which Chief instilled in his students.

Chief's accomplishments did not stop when the war ended. He kept flying as an instructor, giving flight instruction to students of all races well into his eighties - in 1992 at the time of this interview Chief still had a valid air medical and was still giving flight instruction! He was a founding member of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (TAI) and of the Negro Airmen International (NAI). Chief was instrumental in the organization of the NAI Summer Flight Academy, which provides aviation opportunities to young blacks.

C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson was born February 9, 1907 to Janie and Iverson Anderson of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Sent to live with his grandmother in Stanton, Virginia, as a young boy living in the Shenandoah Valley he developed an overwhelming interest in airplanes and flight. "Chief" Anderson was enamored with airplanes and flying from the tender age of six. "Chief" had his first airplane ride in 1928. When he was 13, Chief applied to the Drexel Institute Aviation School, but was denied admission because of his race. When he was a bit older he tried to join the Army to become a pilot, but was again rejected because of the color of his skin. He didn't let those setbacks get in his way.Since most flight instructors of the day would not take black students, he taught himself to fly at the age of 22 in a used plane purchased with his savings and other funds borrowed from friends and relatives. He earned a private pilot's license in 1929 and a commercial pilot's license in 1932. In 1933, he became the first African American to earn a transport, or commercial, pilot's license, and with Dr. Albert E. Forsythe completed a series of long-distance flights in 1933 and 1934 to promote black aviation. Together they made the first round-trip transcontinental flight by black pilots, flying from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Los Angeles and back without the aid of landing lights, parachutes, radios, or blind-flying instruments. Much of their navigation on the trip was accomplished by reading a simple road map.The daring twosome also made a long-distance flight to Canada and later staged an elaborate Pan American Goodwill Tour of the Caribbean in their plane "The Spirit of Booker T. Washington." This island-hopping tour included the first-ever flight of a land plane from Miami to the Bahamas and ultimately ended in Trinidad. The Anderson-Forsythe long-distance flights attracted worldwide attention and did much to popularize aviation in the black community.map

In 1940, Anderson instructed students from Howard University for the Civilian Pilots Training Program (CPTP) until he was recruited by Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to act as its chief primary flight instructor. In 1946, he organized Tuskegee Aviation, Inc., to service aircraft until he was forced out of business by the state's attorney general in the late 1950s. He has continued to fly and co-founded Negro Airmen International in 1967 to encourage others to enter the field of aviation.


  In 1940 Anderson was hired by the Tuskegee Institute as its Chief Flight Instructor, with the assignment to develop a pilot training program for the school. Tuskegee was one of six black colleges participating in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, a system established by the Civil Aeronautics Authority in 1939 to provide a pool of civilian pilots for wartime emergency. At that time Anderson was the only black aviator in the United States who held a commercial pilot's license.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took a special interest in the Tuskegee flight program and visited the school on 19 April 1941. During her tour she asked Chief Anderson if black people could really fly airplanes. He invited her to fly with him around the field to see for herself. Their 40 minute flight together did much to advance the cause of black aviation, leading to the eventual creation of the "Tuskegee Experiment" and the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Anderson was that program's greatest mentor.

Charles Alfred "Chief" Anderson is and was not only an inspiration to black Americans, but also to anyone involved with aviation or who sets a goal to accomplish something in their lives. Sadly, Chief passed away on April 13, 1996 after a long fight with cancer, but his spirit continues on in every person - no matter what his or her race - who desires to fly.