Cornelius Robinson Coffey was the first African American to establish an aeronautical school in the United States. His school was also the only aviation program not affiliated with a university or college to become part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP).
Coffey was born in Newport (Jackson County) on September 6, 1903, to Henry Coffey and Ida Wright Coffey. In 1916, Coffey had his first experience riding in an aircraft and was convinced that aviation was his calling. In 1938, Coffey established his own aeronautics school. Willa Brown would become Coffey's wife. Coffey and Brown married in 1939.
Coffey was a recipient of the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and, in 1980, was the first African American to have an aerial navigation intersection named after him by the FAA. The "CO FEY Fix"-only five letters are allowed-is a waypoint located on the VICTOR 7 airway over Lake Calumet that provides electronic course guidance to Chicago Midway Airport Runway 31 Left. He also designed a carburetor heater that prevented icing and thus allowed airplanes to fly in all kinds of weather. Devices similar to his are still in use on aircraft today.
Coffey became the first president of the National Airmen's Association of America and flew until he was eighty-nine years old. He died on March 2, 1994, in Chicago.