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hammerklavier
09-04-2008, 06:27 PM
I'm starting a novel that has a character who knows how to fly aircraft. She's a young woman in her 20's and her father, who is a pilot, taught her to fly.

The first problem is that they are black, not much job opportunity to become a pilot back then; but I am under the impression that some blacks went to fight for France early in the war and he could have become a pilot there. Is this true? If so, what plane would he likely have flown?

Next problem, could he have taken his plane back to the states? If not, and assuming he could raise enough money, what would be a good civilian aircraft, with plenty of power and up to date that he could have purchaced in the 20's or 30's for business purposes and to train his daughter on?

alleycat
09-04-2008, 06:33 PM
I have some reference books on early aircraft, but I'm just going by memory here.

You could use a French Spad for the aircraft he flew in the war. And then you could use a Curtis Jenny for the aircraft he buys back in the US. Some of them were probably sold as surplus after the war. I'm not sure if that would be a good choice however if the plane is also to be used for "business purposes". It might be, I'm just not sure. You could do a Google seach and see what planes were used by the early barnstormers and air mail pilots such as Lindbergh.

waylander
09-04-2008, 09:10 PM
http://www.theaerodrome.com/aircraft/

IceCreamEmpress
09-04-2008, 09:39 PM
The first African-American person to hold a US pilot's license was Bessie Coleman. (http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Explorers_Record_Setters_and_Daredevils/Coleman/EX11.htm)

It seems to me that her story is actually quite a bit more interesting than the one you propose: her father didn't teach her, she saved money and went to France to learn to fly.

There were no African-American pilots in the French armed forces during World War I.

Sarpedon
09-04-2008, 09:47 PM
Were there any African pilots? Or Franco-Africans? (Afro-French? What's the correct term?)

heyjude
09-04-2008, 10:14 PM
Our own dear DesertAuthor writes something similar to this. I'll go see if I can hunt him down for you...

MelancholyMan
09-04-2008, 10:25 PM
Is it essential that they learned to fly in France or could they have learned elsewhere? There were bush wars all over Africa and the Middle East at the time. And anywhere the English, French, Germans, or Spanish were involved, you had the budding elements of aviation. South Africa might not be a bad place to consider. The Belgian Congo. German West Africa. Anywhere in and around Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia.

There were significant WWI battles between allied forces and forces from the Ottoman Empire in various places in and around the Mediterranean. Make up something plausible like a guy who wanted to learn to fly so went to France. Only they made him a mechanic and shipped him off to North Africa. Once there he got in the habit of riding with the other pilots on practice missions. Maybe at some point he was forced to fight in the air. So he was never really a 'pilot', but was doing everything a pilot does - just not getting any credit for it.

As for the plane type, there are really too many to state and are easy to research. It should be tied to the backstory in some way. If France, then a French design. If elsewhere, then a design from whatever countries were doing the fighting. As for bringing it back, it's fiction. And planes, they have this amazing quality that they fly. And remember, aviation up through the '30s was essentially unregulated, and there was no radar, so if you flew an old plane in no one was even going to know about it, much less care. (Lot's of good back story here.)

-John

hammerklavier
09-05-2008, 07:36 AM
The first African-American person to hold a US pilot's license was Bessie Coleman. (http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Explorers_Record_Setters_and_Daredevils/Coleman/EX11.htm)

It seems to me that her story is actually quite a bit more interesting than the one you propose: her father didn't teach her, she saved money and went to France to learn to fly.

There were no African-American pilots in the French armed forces during World War I.


I found out that you're wrong on that last point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Bullard

Unfortunately for me, he was the only one.

hammerklavier
09-05-2008, 07:38 AM
So help me out here, please, I need to get this story off the ground. How about an aircraft mechanic as MeloncholyMan (are you a moody blues fan?) suggested? That might work for me. Any more ideas along that line? Would the French connection work well?

Willowmound
09-05-2008, 03:16 PM
I am under the impression that some blacks went to fight for France early in the war and he could have become a pilot there. Is this true? If so, what plane would he likely have flown?

How early are we talking? It is important to remember that the aircraft flown in 1914 were hopelessly outdated by 1916. Same for the planes of 1916 at war's end 1918.

In 1915, a pilot flying for the French might have used an early Morane Saulnier monoplane. In 1916 he might have flown the tiny Nieuport 11 Bébé. Toward the end of that year his squadron might have been upgraded with the Nieuport 17 -- or they might have gotten the new, powerful Spad VII. The Spad XIII is the emblematic French WWI fighter, but that didn't enter service until 1917.

MelancholyMan
09-05-2008, 06:29 PM
So help me out here, please, I need to get this story off the ground. How about an aircraft mechanic as MeloncholyMan (are you a moody blues fan?) suggested? That might work for me. Any more ideas along that line? Would the French connection work well?

As a matter of fact I am a big MoodyBlues fan. Saw them in concert in Nashville just a few months ago. Still rocking hard after all these years. Still haven't answered the Question. Asking it is the important part.

Look into the French Foreign Legion. It is called the Foreign Legion because it consists entirely of foreigners fighting for France. Plenty of Americans volunteered and fought in the FFL. There are some very interesting tales of the FFL. They were fighting all over the world around the turn of the century. You can start with Algeria and French Vietnam (Indochina) if you want.

But be careful not to constrain yourself too much to what is historically demonstrable. All it needs is to be historically plausible. The operative word here is fiction. In the early years of flight the training was virtually non-existent. There was no pilot's license. A pilot was someone who could take off and land and not get killed. Just because there is a first recorded black pilot doesn't mean that was the first black person to be a pilot. The regulations came later after so many people got killed. It is not the least bit a stretch to assume that a pilot, or a soldier for that matter, might have wound up as an unofficial pilot after just a few casual field lessons. Especially if that person demonstrated a knack. And many people were afraid to try to fly. Often there were more planes than pilots to fly them and volunteers were sought. Do some historical research and it should be easy to construct a scenario that is based on historical conditions and has the ring of truth.

-MM

donroc
09-05-2008, 07:01 PM
You might google Jan Safarik and go to his site. He lists fighter aces from all wars and the planes they flew. Many sources there.

IceCreamEmpress
09-05-2008, 08:42 PM
I found out that you're wrong on that last point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Bullard


Ah! I thought that Bullard was a French citizen at that time. My mistake; I knew he had lived most of his adult life in France, but hadn't realized he had retained his US citizenship.

The point I was trying to make is that Bessie Coleman's actual story shows much more determination and courage than your hypothetical story: she decided on her own to be a pilot, worked overtime to accumulate the money, and took herself to France for training. She was a pretty amazing lady.

Why can't your African American female pilot learn on her own, like Bessie? Why does she have to have a father teach her?

hammerklavier
09-06-2008, 01:05 AM
Why can't your African American female pilot learn on her own, like Bessie? Why does she have to have a father teach her?

I've got my reasons for that, but thanks for the suggestion all the same.

hammerklavier
09-11-2008, 12:11 AM
Thanks everyone!

Troo
09-11-2008, 06:12 PM
In the twenties, the Boeing 80 was a decent commercial airliner. Moving into the thirties, your options are far more varied: See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:United_States_airliners_1930-1939 for a decent list of airliners available in the USA at the time.

Although I find the idea of circumstances building in such a way as to allow a young black woman to learn to fly, taught by her black ex-military father who fought in WWI, highly implausible the truth is that it isn't impossible. It just means that you have to work hard on making it work without your readers going "Oh, come on!" :)

ideagirl
09-11-2008, 06:54 PM
I've got my reasons for that, but thanks for the suggestion all the same.

If her dad is black (could he be white? If her mother was black then your MC would be "black" in America and thus unable to fly)--anyway, if he was black then he would've had to go learn to fly in France or elsewhere. And if he is only an aircraft mechanic--well, first, it would surprise me gigantically if there were black aircraft mechanics in the US in the WWI era, but apart from that, if he's a mechanic then he can't teach her to fly, since mechanics don't know how to fly.

So. If her dad's a black American pilot, then he must have learned in France, no earlier than the WWI era. So assuming she was, at the oldest, a little kid when he went to France, then if she's now in her 20s, it's what, at least the late 1920s or 1930s? (Keep that in mind as far as what planes she'd be flying.) So, due to their race, she still can't learn to fly in the US, and he can't be employed as a pilot in the US even though he's licensed. Therefore, the only way he could teach her is if he owns his own plane, or has a sympathetic white friend who lets him use the white friend's plane (or somehow steals a plane--but it's unrealistic to have him steal a plane multiple times to give her the multiple lessons she would need). So let's stick with owning a plane or borrowing one from a white friend. Planes were enormously expensive back then (as they are now), so either he's rich, or his white friend is rich.

If you're willing to move this story into the 1940s, her dad could be a member of the Tuskeegee Airmen (have you seen the movie about them? It's great). She could be in her 20s already when he joins the Tuskeegee Airmen, and then he returns from the war and teaches her. Otherwise, you're kind of stuck with the factual scenarios laid out above.