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Bessie Coleman was the first female African-American pilot, and the first person of African-American descent to hold an international pilot's license. She died in an aviation accident in Jacksonville on April 30, 1926.

Aviator Goggles

Airplanes seemed almost magical during their early days. Pulp magazines glorified the exploits of the Red Baron and other World War I flying aces. A few years later in 1927, Charles Lindbergh captured everyone’s attention when he flew solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean. Another hero, Bessie Coleman, represented the world’s first African American female pilot with an aviation license. Accomplishments like theirs made pilots popular for years to come. Remember how the TV show “The Waltons” was initially set during the 1930s? Not surprisingly, one of the kids, Jim Bob, used to like to wear aviation goggles.

Early planes featured open cockpits, so their flyers had to don eye protection and bundle up against the elements. By the 1930s, however, enclosed cockpits were becoming more commonplace. Some military pilots were opposed to them on the grounds of reduced vision and difficulties in escape. Nevertheless, the higher speeds & altitudes at which many planes cruised insured that cockpits would be improved. Otherwise, the heads of flyers would’ve been badly battered by winds.

WINGS OVER THE RIVER CITY — Not so long after the Wright Brothers flew the first plane in 1903, Jacksonville residents could select from a variety of aviation goods at a local store. Sports products abounded in the 1916 catalog from the H. & W. Drew Company. These included the necessities for throttle jockeys and would-be flyers. Some of the premier items are as follows, with their old prices converted into today’s money using this handy inflation calculator:

  • Spalding Aviators’ Leather Safety Helmet — $10 (or $215, with inflation, 2013) — Helmets featured an “adjustable, visor front, and extra protection at back; special padded top and sides on heavy leather form; ear cones (with) felt lining.”
  • Spalding Aviation Hood — $6 ($129) — “Leather; black; good quality; snap fastenings; wool fleece lining.”
  • Spalding Aviation Suit — $15 ($322) — “Best quality moleskin.”
  • Spalding Aviators’ Uniform — $25 ($536) — “Army cloth olive drab suit, consisting of coat, army regulation style, and riding breeches.”
  • Spalding Aviators’ Gloves — $3.50 ($75) — “Gauntlet gloves of black leather. Special quality with wool glove inside.”
  • Universal Ilanasilk Aviators’ Life Preserver — $15 ($322) — “Used by government aviators and others. Has saved several lives already this year… Holds the head out the water.”

~written by Glenn Emery

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