Universally known as “Chief,” C. Alfred Anderson is a lifelong pioneer of aviation opportunities for black Americans. Fascinated by airplanes from an early age, he developed an intense desire to learn to fly as a young man in Staunton, Virginia. In the 1920s, however, he faced enormous resistance from the white-dominated aviation community. Unable to find anyone who would teach him the basics of flying, Anderson borrowed money and bought his first airplane, a Velie Monocoupe. Operating the craft alone, he learned to fly by trial and error. He developed his skills sufficiently within a few months to qualify for his private pilot license and was awarded his certificate in 1929.
His next goal was to obtain an Air Transport License, but once again he was unable to secure formal instruction. Undaunted, he learned the prescribed flying skills by reading, observing, and practicing the required maneuvers solo. When he applied for his checkride, however, the government check pilot refused to fly with him. Finally, a German immigrant, World War I pilot Ernest Buel, persuaded the American check pilot to conduct the flight check. Anderson performed flawlessly and, in 1932, became the first black to hold an Air Transport rating. Dr. Albert Forsythe, a black physician, heard of his achievement and became Anderson’s partner and financial backer for a series of record setting flights. In 1933, Anderson and Forsythe became the first blacks to fly a transcontinental round trip. The following year, they completed a highly publicized Pan American Goodwill flight, and flew the first land plane to reach the Bahamas and several Caribbean islands. During the late 1930s, Anderson began supporting himself by giving flight instruction and, in 1939, he was recruited to start the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
The fledgling program received a tremendous publicity boost when Chief Anderson took Eleanor Roosevelt on an unscheduled airplane ride while the First Lady was visiting Tuskegee’s infantile paralysis research program. Anderson’s CPTP and its military follow-on, which he also directed, were responsible for training the pilots who became the famous Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Anderson and his fellow Tuskegee instructors trained such famous military aviators as B. O. Davis, Jr., and Daniel “Chappie” James. Following the war, Anderson continued as an aviation instructor at Tuskegee and managed an aircraft sales business. In 1985, he received the Frank G. Brewer Trophy, awarded annually for “outstanding contributions to the development of air youth” in the field of education and training.