James Banning was an African American aviator.
He was born in Oklahoma, the son of Riley and Cora Banning. The family moved to Ames, Iowa, in 1919, where he studied electrical engineering at Iowa State College for a little more than a year. Dreaming from boyhood of being a pilot, James Herman Banning was repeatedly turned away from flight schools because he was Black. He eventually learned to fly from an army aviator at Raymond Fisher’s Flying Field in Des Moines He became the first Black aviator to obtain a license from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce.
Banning also operated the J.H. Banning Auto Repair Shop in Ames from 1922 to 1928. He left Iowa for Los Angeles in 1929 where he was the chief pilot for the Bessie Coleman Aero Club. There he became a demonstration pilot flying a biplane named “Miss Ames” for his days in the Midwest. In 1932, Banning and another Black pilot, Thomas C. Allen, became the first Blacks to fly coast-to-coast from Los Angeles to Long Island, NY. Using a plane pieced together from junkyard parts, they made the 3,300 mile trip in less than 42 hours in the air. The trip actually required 21 days to complete, however, because the pilots had to raise money each time they stopped.
Sadly, James Banning was killed in a plane crash during an air show in San Diego in 1933. He was a passenger in a biplane flown by a Navy pilot, which stalled and entered an unrecoverable spin in front of hundreds of horrified spectators.