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Frank Calvin Mann: The First Black Commercial Pilot for American Airways

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Frank Calvin Mann worked in the shadow of Howard Hughes. He worked in his company and was the best. Hughes knew that and supported him, trusting him to troubleshoot his planes. He was also the first black commercial pilot for American Airways and a distinguished military officer. However, Mann didn’t have an easy time. His white colleagues were jealous of his brilliance, and some refused to work with him. We explore his life and contributions.

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Frank Calvin Mann’s Early Life

Frank Calvin Mann’s career. Video Credit: WNAVA

Calvin was born on 22 November 1908 in Houston, Texas. Frank Calvin Mann’s parents wanted him to be a teacher, but he developed a mechanical interest and fixed things. By age 11, Mann operated his mechanics shop and repaired engines.

When he was 20, Mann built his model T-cars. Mann was of sound academic ability. He studied at Wheatly High School and Prairie View A&M College. Mann joined the University of Minnesota and the University of Los Angeles, California (UCLA) and graduated with a mechanical engineering degree. 

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Frank Calvin Mann’s Career

The forgotten colleague of Howard Hughes. Video Credit: greyforestoak

Mann left Houston for Compton where he worked as an independent contractor. In 1934, he started working at Hughes Aircraft Company and stayed for two decades. Mann also offered services for Boeing, Lockheed and other manufacturers.

Throughout his career, Mann faced racism from white engineers. However, Hughes protected him by giving him opportunities and trusting him to work on his aircraft. Historian Harry Bryer explained that Mann didn’t engage his abusers. He ignored them and focused on his work.

“Frank didn’t make much out of racial prejudice, mostly because I believe that he was such a unique person who didn’t want to dwell on the nastiness of it all. He knew that he was treated unevenly, yet he didn’t give it too much credit.”

In 1939, Mann was one of the few black pilot instructors invited to the Tuskegee Institute. He left citing poor conditions and asked Hughes to use his influence to get change. 

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Political Involvement

In 1935, Frank Calvin Mann flew his own airplane to Ethiopia to fight Italy’s invasion by Benito Mussolini. He joined an Ethiopian Air Force, but in 1936, he was forced to flee to the United States when Italians took over the country.  

During World War II, Mann was chosen by the U.S. Army to work on the Mitchell B-25 bombers Jimmy Doolittle. Between 1943 and 1945, Mann collaborated with Hughes and reinforced 50-caliber machine guns to bombers and fighters.

Additionally, he contributed to the production of the Hughes Flying Boat (the Spruce Goose). However, the world ended before the world’s largest airplane launched.

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Frank Calvin Mann’s Designs

After the war, Frank Mann became a car designer, making custom sports cars for Hollywood celebrities. He built the Chevy Corvette for a Walt Disney executive. In 1950, he built an F-86 Sabre Jet called Baby LeSabre. He was instrumental in building the first Buick LeSabre automobile   

In the 1960s, he worked with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on the Surveyor Moon Exploration Unit that sent photos of the moon to Earth. Mann also contributed to the early designs of the space shuttle and the Boeing 747 shuttle carrier aircraft. Mann retired in 1972 and died in 1994.

Frank Calvin Mann isn’t as prolific as Howard Hughes, despite making significant contributions to the aviation industry. It’s important to recognize black people who played a crucial role in all industries.  

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Agnes Amondi
Agnes Amondi
Agnes Amondi is a sports enthusiast who enjoys sharing sports knowledge. Over the years, she has also written on different niches, and she now brings that experience at Spotcovery. She writes sports content and also, Arts & Culture, Recipe, Beauty and more.


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