Ohio, often referred to as the birthplace of aviation, has battled with North Carolina over that distinction for many years. But there’s no debate that pioneering aviator Lonnie Carmon was the first African-American to fly in Central Ohio in an aircraft he built from scratch.
According to accounts from Carmon’s family and several historical societies, Carmon’s historic flight took place in 1926. What makes Carmon’s achievement all the more impressive is that he built his plane using piles of material he obtained from his recycling business.
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A so-called “junk man,” people handed over their unwanted goods to Carmon who refurbished and resold them at his Columbus home. As told by his granddaughter Yvette Davis, Carmon came across a motorcycle engine and began crafting his plane around it. Without any prior training or blueprints, the naturally gifted Carmon built a fully functional aircraft.
Carmon stored his plane at a farm in the nearby Black community of Urbancrest, south of Columbus. Every weekend, he would take his plane out and fly over his town, thrilling the residents and his family. Eventually, Carmon was able to purchase a single engine Piper Club aircraft.
Despite his obvious skills, the nearby Port Columbus Authority declined to give him a job. Carmon would still pack his family up on weekends to watch planes take off from the airfield. Carmon’s knack for building aircraft and mechanics would be passed on to one of his sons, who worked four decades for the Curtiss-Wright manufacturing company.
In 2004, Carmon was recognized by the Columbus Regional Airport Authority for the 75th anniversary of Port Columbus International Airport. The annual report featured a photo of Carmon alongside his aircraft.
More recognition of Carmon’s achievements came in 2010 when former Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy and the Ohio Historical Society honored him. That same year, Carmon was honored by his granddaughter and the Columbus community at the Ohio Historical Center with a Citation of Achievement from Mayor Michael Coleman.
PHOTO: Public Domain