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   Vol. 15  No. 16
Wednesday February 24, 2016

Black Wings Pioneered Flight

Black Wings Pioneered Flight

Exactly 50 years before Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, an intrepid young man, aged thirty-one, became the first licensed African American aviator. The odds are you don't even know his name.
     As we celebrate Black History Month, it seems the enormity of “black history” continues to unfold and reveal itself. Today we explore what for us was a startling revelation: a virtually unknown man with claims to several aviation firsts. His accomplishments are not only noteworthy because he was a person of color, but also for their influence in advancing the history of aviation.
     Emory Conrad Malick, born on December 29, 1881, in Northumberland County, PA, had high-flying dreams from the early years of his life.
     A carpenter and aviation enthusiast, Emory combined his love of the latter with his expertise in the former, building his own gliders to fly to his job as a farmhand at Cattie Weiser’s farm, just across the Susquehanna River (Emory and his father also installed the mahogany veneering in the Pennsylvania Railroad’s dining cars). According to his great niece, Mary Groce, who has compiled a fantastic website enumerating her great uncle’s many accomplishments (and to whom we owe many thanks for her help and research in this article), Emory’s first recorded flight was on “July 24, 1911… in an engine-powered ‘aeroplane,’ which took place in Seven Points (PA).”
     On March 20, 1912, Emory became the first licensed African American aviator, receiving his F.A.I. (Federation Aeronautique Internationale) license #105, after learning to fly at the Curtiss Aviation School in San Diego, CA.
     Mr. Malick was also the first African American pilot to earn his Federal Airline Transport License, #1716, issued on April 30, 1927.
     In the summer of 1914, according to Glenn Curtiss Museum records in Hammondsport, New York, Emory “obtained, assembled—and improved upon—his own Curtiss ‘pusher’ biplane, which he flew over Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, ‘to the wonderment of all!’” Local factories were shut down so workers could witness the aerial wonder—the first human to cut the clouds over central PA.

The Flying Dutchman

Flying Dutchman Air Service      By early 1918, Emory was at work in Philadelphia, transporting passengers on joyrides up into the air and to nearby destinations. He piloted a Waco 9 (an early and quite excellent all-metal bi-plane with a reliable Curtiss OX5 engine and two places for passengers) for the Flying Dutchman Air Service.
Interestingly, KLM in Holland was founded October 1, 1919, and flights from Amsterdam all the way to Batavia (Indonesia) became known as the “Route of the Flying Dutchmen.”
     Emory’s records state that he actually established the Flying Dutchman Air Service with Ernie Buehl, a former German pilot who was remembered for having taught and encouraged black pilots, including Charles Alfred Anderson.

Date With Eleanor Roosevelt

     An important historical point of that era is that “Chief” Anderson later flew for Eleanor Roosevelt, who was quickly impressed with his abilities. She of course convinced her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that African Americans were beyond skilled enough to fly for the United States during World War II, and it was the “Chief” who then became the Chief Flight instructor for the Tuskegee Airmen.

Waco Nine flight

The Complete Package

     Emory was a triple threat: a pilot, a mechanic, and an engineer, and to add to his list of accomplishments as a dreamer, he was also an aerial photographer for the Aero Service Corporation and Dalin Aerial Surveys.
     Emory retired from the skies after May 20, 1928, when an unfortunate crash killed a passenger and left his eyes so seriously injured that he was officially grounded, and lost his Federal Transport License. When asked to participate in a flight, he said, “I’ve had my fun, and now I’m done.”

History Misguided

     At the 1928 dedication of the Sunbury Airport, which straddled the Susquehanna River over which Emory Malick used to glide to work in Sunbury, PA, Emory, the first and arguably greatest pilot of his era, was overlooked in favor of out-of-towner Wesley Smith, to whom the airport was dedicated.
     The snub was recalled in a local newspaper, which stated that Emory should have been the focus of the dedication; after all, it was Emory’s engine—the same engine that had first flown over the city and had been thus far stored in his father’s basement—which the Sunbury Airport put on display for the dedication.

History Lost

     In late December 1958, at 77 years old, Emory Conrad Malick slipped on an icy sidewalk, fell, and hit his head. He was found unconscious and rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. Sadly, he remained unidentified in the morgue for over a month before the FBI was able to track down his sister, Annie.

Great Niece

     All information on Emory C. Malick has been carefully and lovingly gathered through the slow uncovering and tireless research conducted by his great-niece, Mary Groce. She believes—correctly—that Emory Malick has earned his rightful place as the first licensed African American pilot. She says, “Even though Emory was my grandmother’s brother, I was never told about him, and only recently found information and photos hidden away in attic boxes. In my journey to uncover his story, I learned the sad (but, thankfully, only partial) truth in words spoken to me by a very old, white, retired Air Force pilot: ‘Hey, he was an out-of-towner, and he was black. Of course no one saved any record of him!’” We would argue that his “record” can be found in the immense and indelible effect he had on the history of African Americans in aviation—from the humble beginnings of a man gliding over a river to work, to the indispensable service of the Tuskegee Airmen. Without Emory, crucial links would be severed, and vital historic events would simply cease to exist.

Black Into White

     Interestingly, Mary Groce’s grandmother, Annie, who identified her brother’s body, was put up for adoption at a very young age, along with her sister, Cora.
Flossie Arend Byline      Annie was apparently “light skinned” and effectively “passing for white,” was adopted by a white family.
     It was only after perusing some old family documents that Mary Groce discovered her hidden family heritage, and her connection to the first African American pilot of the United States.
     Mary spoke on February 20, about E. C. Malick during the Sixth Annual Celebration of Black Aviation at the American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum auditorium, Fort Worth, Texas, She is still working on a biography of her great uncle, but her children’s books about E. C. Malick, in Kindle form, are now on Amazon.com, titled “Emory Conrad Malick, Our First Licensed Black Pilot.” by Buckadee (Mary Groce).
     She says that “sharing the story of E. C. Malick” is “her grand passion” and welcomes and encourages anyone with information about her great uncle to contact her at MsMaryGroce@aol.com.
     You can read more about Emory Malick at www.emoryconradmalick.com

Malick In Waco 9
Emory Conrad Malick pictured in his Waco 9.

A postscript:
     Emory’s Waco 9 sat parked in a hangar in Schwenksville PA for several years after Emory stopped flying and was scrapped in 1934.
     Today there are at least a dozen examples of this excellent (270 built) aircraft, which a black man helped prove airworthy in steady service.
     After the Waco 9, the greatest bi-plane ever, the Waco 10 (1623 built during 1930s) arrived. A completely updated version is still being built today and mostly available at a smaller airport near you for joyrides all summer

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