C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson

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C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson
Full name Charles Alfred Anderson Sr.
Born (1907-02-09)February 9, 1907
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Died April 13, 1996(1996-04-13) (aged 89)
Tuskegee, Alabama
Cause of death Colon cancer
Monuments Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, Tuskegee Alabama
Nationality United States
Spouse Gertrude Nelson
Relatives Charles A. Anderson Jr. (son)
Christina L. Anderson (granddaughter)
Aviation career
Known for Father of Black Aviation
First flight Velie Monocoupe
Famous flights Flight with Eleanor Roosevelt, 1941
Flight license 1929 Private Pilot License, Pennsylvania
1932 Transport Pilot License, Pennsylvania
Air force ARMY Air Corps
Battles Chief Flight Instructor for the Tuskegee Airmen WWII
Rank Ground Commander
Awards Honorary doctorate from Tuskegee University,
2013 Enshrinee National Aviation Hall of Fame,
Featured on 70 cents Distinguished Americans postage stamp (2014)

Charles Alfred Anderson, Sr., (February 9, 1907 – April 13, 1996) was an American aviator who is known as the "The Father of Black Aviation".[1]

Early life[edit]

Born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania to Iverson and Janie Anderson, Charles was fascinated by airplanes and knew he just had to fly.[2] By the time he was 20, he had saved enough money for flying lessons; however, no one would teach a young black man to fly. Not deterred, Anderson attended aviation ground school, learned airplane mechanics, and hung around airports, picking up information from white pilots wherever he could.

Learning to fly[edit]

Realizing the only way he would learn to fly was by owning his own airplane, he purchased a Velie Monocoupe with savings and loans from friends and family. Members of a flying club eventually allowed him to join, but instruction was not offered.[3] Taxiing his airplane around the field, Anderson would periodically gun the engine, eventually finding himself aloft. With growing confidence, it was not long before the fledgling pilot taught himself to take off—and land—safely.

One club member and experienced pilot, Russell Thaw, had no airplane but sought to visit his mother on weekends in Atlantic City.[4] A bargain was struck—Thaw would rent and fly Anderson’s Monocoupe, and Anderson could come along, gaining valuable cross country experience. Thus was Anderson able to earn his pilot’s license in August 1929. Seeking to obtain an air transport pilot’s license but again finding race an obstacle, help finally came from Ernest H. Buehl, known as "The Flying Dutchman," a German aviator who had been invited to come to the United States in 1920 to help open transcontinental airmail routes.[5] Under Buehl’s tutelage and personal insistence, in February 1932, Anderson became the first African American to receive an air transport pilot’s license from the Civil Aeronautics Administration.[4]

Pre-WWII life[edit]

On June 24, 1932, Anderson married his childhood sweetheart, Gertrude Nelson of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. The Andersons would eventually have two sons. In July 1933, Anderson met Dr. Albert E. Forsythe, a black physician and pilot who shared his goal of introducing fellow blacks to the field of aviation. Record-setting and attention-getting flights proved effective. Among these was the pair’s first transcontinental round trip flight by black pilots, from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California.[4]

The duo made additional ‘first flights’ for blacks to Canada and throughout the United States, capturing worldwide attention in the summer of 1934 when they flew their new Lambert Monocoupe, christened The Booker T. Washington, on a Pan American Good Will Tour.[6] By September 1938, Anderson was instructing in the Washington, D.C. area where, while operating a Piper Club, he was hired as a flight instructor for the Civilian Pilot Training Program at Howard University.[7]

Tuskegee Airmen and WWII[edit]

In 1940, Anderson was recruited by the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, to serve as the Chief Civilian Flight Instructor for its new program to train black pilots. He developed a pilot training program, taught the Program’s first advanced course, and earned his nickname, “Chief”. In March 1941, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was touring the Institute’s hospital. Knowing of the flight program, she asked to meet its chief instructor. The First Lady told Anderson she had always heard that “colored people couldn’t fly,” but it appeared that he could. “I’m just going to have a take flight with you,” she said. Anderson was not about to turn down the First Lady, despite the protests of her security detail. Upon returning 40 minutes later, Anderson’s delighted passenger exclaimed, “Well I see you can fly, all right!” No doubt her experience was a boost to President Roosevelt’s administration, which had just established the Tuskegee Airmen Experiment, to explore if it was possible to train black pilots for military service. Anderson went on to train other famous Military Aviation Pioneers such as General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. and General Daniel "Chappie" James, Sr.[2]

Monumental Flight with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt 1941

By June 1941, Anderson was selected by the Army as Tuskegee’s Ground Commander and Chief Instructor for aviation cadets of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, America’s first all-black fighter squadron.[8] The 99th would eventually join three other squadrons of Tuskegee Airmen in the 332nd Fighter Group, known as The Red Tails. The 450 Tuskegee Airmen who saw combat flew 1,378 combat missions, destroyed 260 enemy planes, and earned over 150 Flying Crosses, among numerous other awards.[9]

Post-WWII life[edit]

Anderson’s postwar contributions to aviation continued at Moton Field, providing ground and flight training to both black and white students under the G.I. Bill, and in 1951, training Army and Air Force ROTC cadets along with private students. He also provided aircraft and engine maintenance and sold aircraft in the Southeast and Southwestern United States. In 1967, Anderson co-founded Negro Airmen International, the nation’s oldest African-American pilot organization which established a summer flight academy for youth interested in aviation, and he continued to instruct students until 1989.[10]


Failing health finally grounded Anderson in the mid 1990s. He died peacefully in his sleep on April 13, 1996, in Tuskegee, Alabama.[11] Anderson never sought fame, recognition or fortune for his accomplishments, yet he touched the lives of thousands of pilots, both civilian and military, many of whose names are found throughout aviation history books.


The C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson Legacy Foundation a non-profit organization, was founded in 2012 by his granddaughter, Christina Anderson, to honor the legacy of Chief Anderson and the Tuskegee Airmen, and to continue Chief Anderson's mission to promote and expose aviation to youth and the community.[12]


In addition to hundreds of other notable awards received through his life, on October 4, 2013, Anderson was Enshrined into the National Aviation Hall. This honor is the most prestigious award an aviator can receive in America. Anderson entered into the Hall of Fame with fellow class of 2013 Enshrinees: Vietnam War hero Major General Patrick Henry Brady, famed NASA astronaut Captain Robert L. "Hoot" Gibson, and Cessna aircraft innovator Dwane L. Wallace.[13] Christina Anderson accepted the award on behalf of Chief Anderson with award presenter Dr. Guion Stewart “Guy” Bluford, Jr., NASA astronaut and the first African American in space.[14]

In March 2014, the United States Postal Service announced that it would release a stamp commemorating Alfred "Chief" Anderson on March 13, 2014.[needs update] This stamp is the 15th stamp in the Distinguished Americans series. The stamp was designed by art director Phil Jordan, and Anderson's portrait on the stamp was painted by Sterling Hundley, showing Anderson wearing headgear worn by pilots in World War II.[15]


  1. ^ Cooper, Charlie (1996). Tuskegee's Heroes. MBI Publishing Company. 
  2. ^ a b Air Force, United States. "Eagle Biography". The Air Command and Staff College Gathering of Eagles Foundation. 
  3. ^ Smith, E.N. (April 1996). "Charles Anderson, Tuskegee Airmen Instructor, at 89". Associated Press-1996 Daily News. 
  4. ^ a b c Brock, Pope (November 28, 1988). "Chief Anderson". When the Skies Were Unfriendly, This Pioneer Aviator Opened the Blue Yonder to Blacks; Vol. 30, No. 22. People.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  5. ^ Taylor, Mark. "The Flying Dutchman". Mark Taylor. 
  6. ^ Von Hardesty, Dominick A. Pisano (1988). Black Wings: The American Black in Aviation (Smithsonian History of Aviation and Spaceflight). Smithsonian Books. 
  7. ^ Historical Research Agency, Air Force. "Charles "Chief" Anderson". United States National Park Service. 
  8. ^ Haskins, Jim (1995). Black Eagles: African Americans in Aviation. Scholastic. 
  9. ^ Ngo, Nancy (August 8, 1999). "Flying Together//During World War Ii, Black Pilots Called The Tuskegee Airmen Saved Many Lives. Now, The Airmen Are Being Recognized At A Local Aviation Expo For Their Service". St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN). 
  10. ^ Kaplan Gubert, et. all, Betty (2002). Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science. Library of Congress Cataloging In-Publication-Data: The Orxy Press. 
  11. ^ Stout, David (April 17, 1996). "Charles Anderson Dies at 89; Trainer of Tuskegee Airmen". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ Anderson, Christina. "The Chief Anderson Foundation". Christina Anderson. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  13. ^ Kaplan, Ron. "National Aviation Hall of Fame Reveals Names of "Class of 2013" at Wright Brothers Anniversary Dinner". nationalaviation.org. Retrieved November 1, 2013. 
  14. ^ Kaplan, Ron. "Legendary Army aviator among four to be honored at 51st Annual National Aviation Hall of Fame Ceremony". National Aviation Hall of Fame. 
  15. ^ USPS Stamp Announcement 14-14: C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson Stamp.