Jesse D. Hayes, Jr., MD. (1931 - 2000)

Dr. Jesse D. Hayes, Jr., was a transformative leader who helped form Black Pilots of America and embodied its aims and purposes through his commitment to aviation. Inspired by Black aviation pioneers and the valor of the 332nd Fighter Group during WWII, Jesse served Black communities and elevated aviation as a viable hobby and career choice.

After serving as a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force Medical Corps, Jesse moved his family to Houston, TX, in 1962 to work as Texas’s first Black ophthalmologist. He operated a well-regarded and successful practice, yet his passion remained aviation. In the mid-60s, he earned his Private Pilot certification and developed a network of like-minded pilots. By 1968, he and four other pilots formed the Bronze Eagles Flying Club (BEFC) with a mission to increase Black involvement in aviation.

As President of BEFC, Jesse flew to Grider Field, Pine Bluff, AR, along with 100 other Black pilots from around the country, at the invitation of Alfred Charles “Chief” Anderson in July 1969. They convened to discuss the formation of Negro Airmen International (NAI). There Jesse met Horace Noble, President of Chicago American Pilots Association (CAPA), and forged a lifelong bond. Being natural competitors, Jesse and Horace envisioned a flying competition between CAPA and BEFC, and on Memorial Weekend 1971, forty-six airplanes arrived at Barrier Field, Yazoo City, MS, for the first Operation Skyhook. This national annual event moved to Wichita, KS, Houston, TX, and Tuskegee, AL, over the years and currently resides where the two creators first met—Grider Field.

While serving BEFC, Jesse became a highly accomplished pilot and aircraft owner with over 14,000 flight hours. His first and last airplanes were Mooney J-20s and, in between, he owned a Bonanza, two Barons and a Cherokee. In the pursuit of excellence and safety, he earned his Instrument rating, Commercial Pilot certification, and then Airline Transport Pilot certification.

Jesse’s service also included NAI Treasurer, BEFC Treasurer, coordinating numerous fly-ins for Black youths throughout Texas and creating promotional films to inspire folks to learn to fly. His passion for drawing Black youths to aviation is memorialized in Houston’s Dr. Jesse D. Hayes, Jr. Annual Fly-In for Children, where BEFC flies over 100 youths every July. He is also honored with the naming of the Hayes STEM Leadership Scholarship.

Bronze Eagles, TX Chapter