Franklin Augustus, a famed stunt pilot, died in a plane crash on August 16 at 69 years old. Nancy Parker, a journalist, also died in the crash.
According to Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Augustus and Parker were the only people on board the plane when it crashed into a field nearby New Orleans Lakefront Airport. The crash occurred at about three in the afternoon, local time.
As for the cause of the crash, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson said, via BuzzFeed News, “[the] Pitts S-2B aircraft crashed under unknown circumstances, approximately one-half mile south” of the airport.
Here’s what you need to know about Augustus:
1. Augustus & Parker Were Filming a Segment at the Time of the Crash
According to BuzzFeed News, Parker and Augustus were flying to film a segment at the time of the crash.
According to an archived article from 1988 in The Times-Picayune, Augustus explained that he started flying at 19 years old. He became hooked on flight acrobatics after he signed up to take an advanced flying course. He said, “I was falling all over the sky because I wasn’t used to it.”
He added, “It’s fun. When I found out that aerobatic planes can take everything we give them and not fall apart, I wanted to do it every chance I got.”
2. Augustus Was One of the few Black Airshow Pilots
As a black pilot, Augustus was a trailblazer, one of the few who performed airshows. He frequently visited schools to talk about being a pilot, several publications have reported, and he even worked as an anti-drug campaigner too.
Thirty years ago, Augustus claimed to be the only black pilot who performed airshows, according to NOLA.com. Maggie Thomas, administrative director of the Lake Charles Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc., said of Augustus, “He was one of the most passionate people I know. He was remarkable, and full of energy.”
3. Augustus Was the President of the Lake Charles Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc.
Augustus was the president of the Lake Charles chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group which aims to honor the organization. The Tuskegee Airmen were an Army Air Corps groups of African American men that was formed during World War II.
Specifically, the Tuskegee Airmen were a group of men and women — both black and white — who participated in a program to teach African Americans to fly combat aircraft during the second World War. The name came from where they trained out of: Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college based in Alabama.
To be clear, Augustus was not a member of the Tuskegee Airmen; any person can sign up to be a member of the group honoring those men and women. However, he believed strongly in highlighting the successes of African American pilots. Per NOLA.com, he said several decades ago, “I want to let the young people know that if I can make it, anybody can.”
4. Augustus Spoke Out About the Difficulty of Being a Black Pilot
In previous interviews, Augustus was candid about the challenges of being one of the few black stunt pilots in the game. In the 1988 Times-Picayne article, he said, “It’s difficult to be a black in aviation because there are so few of us now.”
Augustus further explained, “There’s not a real color barrier, but when you walk in the door and you’re the only black person in the room, it’s difficult.”
5. Many Are Mourning the Loss of Augustus & Parker on Twitter
Some Twitter users have questioned what they believe to be uneven coverage in the deaths of Parker and Augustus.
Another user wrote, “#FranklinAugustus,69, was an extraordinary aviator and instructor who sponsored annual airshows performing dramatic stunts that awed spectators! He was a New Orleans icon that embodied grace, class, & diligence. He too, will truly be missed.”