Five North Carolinian Trailblazers in American Aviation

Author: 
Brandon Goins

North Carolina is world famous for its contribution to history, providing the perfect conditions for the Wright Brother’s flight in Kitty Hawk in 1903. The Wrights, Ohio natives, earned their place in the history books but have you heard of these North Carolinians who also made great contributions to aviation history?

 

Kiffin Rockwell

"I do not consider that I am fighting for France alone, but for the cause of humanity, the most noble of all causes." -- Kiffin, in a letter to his mother

Originally from Newport, Tennessee, Kiffin Rockwell moved to Asheville at fourteen. At the start of WWI, before American involvement, he traveled to Europe with his brother to join the French Foreign Legion. Two years later, Rockwell and six other American aviators formed the Lafayette Escadrille Squadron. The Lafayette Escadrille became famous when Kiffin was the first American aviator to shoot down an enemy aircraft in battle. An American war hero, Kiffin was dubbed "The Demon in the Sky" (a name which he gave himself) before he was later killed in his 142nd dogfight in September of 1916.

 

Tom Oxendine

Thomas Oxendine, a Lumbee, became the first Native American to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. He was later awarded The Flying Cross for rescuing a downed pilot. A true hero, Tom managed to land his seaplane under enemy fire and retrieve his fellow airman, against radio communication orders. After the war, Oxendine returned home and attended Pembroke State College. Upon graduation, Tom went on to serve in the Korean and Vietnam wars before retiring. 

Interested in more information on Native American Involvement in WWII? Check this out!

 

Georgia "Tiny" Broadwick 

"I tell you, honey, it was the most wonderful sensation in the world!" -- Tiny, after her first jump at the NC State Fair in 1908

Tiny Broadwick, the First Lady of Parachuting, is famous as the first woman to parachute from a plane. Before she made history, Tiny lived a whirlwind life. When she was fifteen she joined up with the James J. Jones Carnival after seeing Charles Broadwick parachute from a balloon at the 1907 State Fair in Raleigh. She was mystified by the feat that day and immediately sought out Charles himself to join up. Tiny was adopted and trained by the showman, soon becoming the star of the show herself as the "Flying Doll Girl." She was later approached by a pilot who designed a trap seat for airplanes that he intended to test. Fearless, Tiny agreed and helped pave the way for parachuting to become a common way of aerial escape for pilots. 

 

Warren Wheeler

"We've never had an African American, but we'll see what we can do." -- Oklahoma American Flying School, upon Wheeler's request to join

Warren H. Wheeler is the first African American to own an airline. Born in Durham, Wheeler later attended NC Agricultural and Technical College for a year. Bored of college, and of the ground, Wheeler left with dreams of becoming an air pilot. Unable to obtain his commercial flying license due to racial discrimination in the south, Warren traveled to Oklahoma's American Flying School. At nineteen, Warren became the school's first African American graduate. Wheeler Flying Service was founded in 1969, making local flights between North Carolina cities. Within seven years, the company grew to serve the greater NC area and to even make flights to Virginia and New York. Wheeler Flying Service became Wheeler Airlines, boasting a fleet of planes and approximately thirty-seven thousand pilots. 

 

 

Resources:

http://exhibits.archives.ncdcr.gov/ffc/Flight/Aviation/pioneers.html

https://www.flickr.com/photos/north-carolina-state-archives/

https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/georgia-%E2%80%9Ctiny%E2%80...