The first Black aviator licensed to fly in Arkansas is among the three pilots to be inducted into the 2023 class of the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame.
The Arkansas Aviation Historical Society will honor the trio for their contributions to aviation and aerospace history in Arkansas at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock.
The inductees are:
Pickens Black Jr., who fought racial discrimination on his path to becoming a pilot in Arkansas. He once built his own plane, but the government wouldn’t allow him to fly it. He finally received his private pilot license in 1933, becoming the first African American in Arkansas to do so. Black went on to own a passenger plane and two crop dusters.
A graduate of Virginia Union University, he built and repaired planes at a hangar he owned near his home in Blackville in Jackson County. Black died in 1980 at the age of 74 in the same house in which he was born in Blackville.
Bob Blankenship, who grew up on his family’s farm in Lincoln County but went on to gain fame as a pilot in air shows. He was known for his “Granny” act where he would land his J-3 Cub on a rack on the back of a pickup truck that was racing down the runway. He also performed aerobatics in his modified Stearman that he called “Ol’ Red.”
Blankenship spent several years crop dusting before working for Southwest Airlines, from which he retired. Blankenship accumulated more than 40,000 flying hours and acquired numerous type ratings throughout his career.
Matthew Younkin, who is the third generation of his family to enter the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame. He learned to fly at 14 and soloed on his 16th birthday flying his grandfather’s 1928 Travel Air 4000 Biplane. Today, Younkin owns Younkin Airshows and is considered one of the finest showmen in the airshow circuit.
He is known for perfecting the world’s only night aerobatic display in the Beech 18 where he uses lights, smoke, choreography and musical score to produce what is known as the Twin Beech Night Spectacular. Younkin lives in Siloam Springs.
In addition to managing the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame, the Arkansas Aviation Historical Society also provides college scholarships to encourage young people to pursue careers in aviation.