Airport naming honors aviator and former Iowa State student


James H Banning head shot


The city of Ames renamed its municipal airport last month for former resident and Iowa State student James Herman ("Herman") Banning, half of the first African American duo to fly cross-country.

"He has been called a trailblazer because of the challenges he faced on his journey to become a pilot," said mayor John Haila. "He persevered and paved the way for other Black aviators."

According to the city's records, the Oklahoma native moved to Ames in 1919 to attend Iowa State College. University records show he studied electrical engineering during the 1920-21 academic year but did not complete a degree. He also owned and operated an auto repair shop during his Ames years (1922-28).

Banning took flying lessons in Des Moines with World War I veteran Lt. Raymond Fisher, who agreed to train him after several flight schools rejected his application. Banning was the first African American to receive his pilot's license from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Learn more

James Herman Banning has a page in the University Library's Tracing Race at ISU Project.

Banning and Iowa State veterinary student Frederick Douglass Patterson lived at the same Ames boarding house for a time. Banning was the first Black aviator Patterson knew -- and part of the inspiration behind Patterson establishing a commercial aviation program at Tuskegee Institute (now University) when he served as president. This program produced the famed "Tuskegee Airmen" of World War II.

Banning left Ames for Los Angeles in 1929 when he was recruited to be the chief instructor for the Bessie Coleman Aero Club. Over three weeks in the fall of 1932, Banning and mechanic Thomas Cox Allen became the first African Americans to complete a transcontinental flight, Los Angeles to New York. They raised funds for the feat as they went.

Banning died in February 1933 in San Diego, the passenger in an air show plane that crashed. Because of his race, he wasn't allowed to pilot it. He was just 33 years old.


Wendy Wintersteen visits with Banning relative and two actors

President Wendy Wintersteen visits with Herman Banning's great nephew, Christopher Hart (right), following the airport dedication ceremony June 17. The two actors pictured presented a play about Banning as part of the dedication. Submitted photo.

Man removes cover from airport building sign

Special guest Christopher Hart removes the tarp from new building signage that names the Ames municipal airport for his great uncle, James Herman Banning. Submitted photo.