Frank Calvin Mann, born November 22, 1908 in Houston, Texas, his parents wanted him to become a schoolteacher; yet as a boy, he had a natural ability to fix things. At age 11, he had his own mechanic shop. As a teen-ager, he worked alongside airplane mechanics, repairing engines.
By the ago of 20, he had designed and built several of his own Model-T cars. It was unheard of in the 1920s for a Black man to have anything to do with cars, trains, or airplanes. His life-long friend Howard Hughes was instrumental in opening door for his exceptional talents.
Mann attended the University of Minnesota and UCLA where he earned a mechanical engineering degree. And World War II equipment that revolutionized military weaponry would not exist if not for his involvement.
What's incredible is that few Americans are aware of Frank Mann. He was the first Black commercial pilot for American Airways. He was also a distinguished military officer. In 1935, following Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, Frank Mann flew reconnaissance missions for the Ethiopian army.
He served in the World War II Army Air Corps and was the primary civilian instructor of the famous Tuskegee Airmen in 1941. He left Tuskegee after a rift with the U. S. government, who didn't want the Squadron, an all-Black unit, flying the same high caliber of airplanes as their White counterparts. Mann had refused to have his men fly old "World War I biplane crates," he was angered, because his airmen had proven themselves as equals. Though they were being given inferior equipment and materials, their Squadron never lost a plane, bomber, or pilot, and they were nicknamed the "Red Tails."
After the war, he was instrumental in the design that produced the first Buick LeSabre automobile and the first communications satellite launched for commercial use. His pride & joy was a miniature locomotive enshrined in the Smithsonian Institute. Mann was a behind-the-scenes troubleshooter and engineer for Howard Hughes and flew with Hughes on the famed Spruce Goose. Mann also played a principal role in the Amos 'N' Andy radio show.
Mann moved back to his hometown in the 1970s. He died November 30, 1992 in Houston.