Print Print Email Email Share Share

Neal V. Loving

Neal V. Loving


Neal V. Loving was born February 4, 1916 in Detroit, Michigan. After falling in love with aviation in 1926, he took his first airplane ride in May, 1930. The next year he entered Cass Technical High School Aero Department and graduated in 1934. In 1935 he designed and built the first of his five home-built airplanes-a glider that never flew. In 1936 Neal began to teach aeromodelling at Detroit youth centers. After soloing in 1938, he built and flew his second glider (S-1) in 1941. That same year, Neal became the first African American instructor at Aero Mechanics High School. After buying a Waco Biplane, he and his friends formed a Civil Air Squadron to provide aviation training for black youth. In response to a letter from CAA in 1942, Neal formed the Wayne Aircraft Company in Detroit to build his S-1 glider as a primary trainer, the first African American to do so in the United States.

On July 30, 1944, Neal crashed his S-1, crushing his legs so badly they were amputated below the knee and he was then fitted with artificial limbs. Production plans for the S-1 glider were cancelled. In 1945, Neal entered the Aero Engineering Department at Wayne State University. To resume his flying career, he bought a surplus World War II trainer and formed the Wayne School of Aeronautics to teach black veterans to fly. The additional workload caused Neal to drop out of Wayne State. In 1949, he began building a midget racer, "Loving's Love," which he flew the following year. In 1951 he became the first African American double amputee to qualify as a racing pilot.

Resuming his studies, Neal graduated from Wayne State in 1961 and began his aerospace research career at the Flight Dynamics Laboratory, Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. Neal's research included developing structural criteria for advanced composite materials in support of the supersonic transport and the X-30 Aerospace plane. During his career, Neal received fifty awards, including an Honorary Fellowship in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

He was enshrined in the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on October 18, 1997 for his long and illustrious career; overcoming odds beyond comprehension; and his major contributions to the African American aviation community and aerospace industry as a whole.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program