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Honoring Aviation Pioneer: James Herman Banning



Did you know there are eight United States Airports named after African American luminaries?

In honor of Black History Month, we’ll be highlighting them and the airport that shares their name.

James Herman Banning Ames Municipal Airport (AMW) located in Ames, Iowa is named after aviator James Banning, who became America’s first black aviator to fly coast to coast across the contiguous United States, in 1932 flying from Los Angeles, CA to Long Island, NY.

Determined to become a pilot since he was a young boy, he didn’t let being repeatedly turned away from flight schools due to racial discrimination stop him. Instead, he took private pilot lessons from a WWI U.S. Army aviator at Raymond Fishers’ Flying Field in Des Moines, Iowa. Banning eventually earned a mechanics’ certificate, a pilot’s license and then a transport pilots’ license allowing him to fly commercially. Becoming a demonstration pilot flying a biplane named Miss Ames, (he’d attended Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa studying electrical engineering) he performed in air circuses around the country.

When Banning and co-pilot Thomas Cox Allen decided to become the first black aviators to make this journey, they only had $25 dollars between them. Flying an Alexander Eaglerock- a two seat biplane which Banning describes as, “put together[with] various cracked-up airplane parts.” And not sure how the plane would hold up and if they’d be successful, they didn’t alert the press of their intentions lest they failed.

In good spirits they named themselves the “Flying Hobos”, as they planned to raise funds at each stop, by creative measures including offering supporters the opportunity to sign their wingtip. For personal safety they planned to stop only in towns where they knew someone and would be welcomed. Though things often did not go as planned – their adventure was a resounding success. According to author Amelia Grabowski in Crossing the Country with James H. Banning, “Some of the arrangements were very creative. For instance, landing in Pittsburgh, the editor of the Pittsburgh Courier (a Black newspaper) arranged for the men to meet with the Democratic party with Election Day fast approaching. The editor and Democratic party officials offered to cover remaining expenses, handle publicity, and help repair the Eaglerock for a return flight, if the men would write some first-person stories about their adventure and drop leaflets supporting the Democratic candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt from the sky. The duo left Pittsburgh with 15,000 leaflets. ‘We were more than happy to throw them out of the plane to save weight,’ Allen recalled in an oral history interview.”

When James and co-pilot Thomas Cox Allen, finally landed 3,330 miles from where they started, they were greeted by Long Island Mayor, Jimmy Walker and given a key to the city. It had been quite the journey. Though they were in the air only 41 hours and 27 minutes, their journey lasted 21 days. Their “fundraise as you go approach” exhibited their faith, creativity, resourcefulness, and ultimately offered a way to showcase their skills and promote the idea that aviation should be open to all regardless of race.


Jacobsen|Daniels (J|D) is a professional consulting services firm specializing in services for the aviation industry. Formed in 2001, our team provides solutions that are technically sound and thoughtfully designed to improve the travel experience at airports. From roadways to airways, we pursue ideas, concepts, and answers to improve the journey for the traveling public. From its founding, J|D has been dedicated to reliable, convenient, and safe transit options that meet the rapidly changing safety and security needs of the transportation industry. Offering an array of diversified technical services, we provide strategic advice to improve performance and improve the traveler’s journey, making your vision an attainable reality. We also provide valet services at multiple airports through Fly Away Valet, our signature valet company, owned and operated by J|D. Learn more about us at www.jacobsendaniels.com and by following us on LinkedIn and Twitter @JourneywithJ|D.

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