Former Test Pilot, Astronaut Candidate Selected to Sculpt Chappie James Memorial

This story was originally published Sept. 17, 2021.

One trailblazer will commemorate another as former Air Force test pilot, astronaut candidate, and sculptor Ed Dwight has been selected to create a statue of the Air Force’s first Black four-star general, Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr.

The statue will be installed at the landing of the new bridge in Pensacola, Fla., that was named in James’ honor in July 2020, the ​​General Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. Memorial Foundation announced Sept. 17. It will form part of a memorial plaza that will include an F-4 Phantom in flight and an 80-foot flag pole, with a scheduled dedication of Sept. 18, 2022, the 75th birthday of the Air Force.

The city of Pensacola has already agreed to contribute $250,000 in funds for the project, and further fundraising efforts will begin in October, the memorial foundation said in a press release. Pensacola, less than 50 miles from Eglin Air Force Base, is James’ hometown—his childhood home is being transformed into a museum and is currently under construction.

James, a Tuskegee Airman, served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, seeing combat in the latter two conflicts. He was promoted to the rank of four-star general in 1975, becoming the first African American to reach the grade of O-10 across the entire U.S. military. He was placed in charge of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, becoming the eighth-ever commander of NORAD, and held that position for more than two years.

Dwight, for his part, is a trailblazer as well. As a captain and a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in the 1960s, he trained in the Aerospace Research Pilot School run by the legendary Chuck Yeager, with the hope of being selected as a NASA astronaut, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Dwight was part of a select group to make it through to the second phase of training and was recommended by the Air Force when he applied to become an astronaut, but he was controversially not selected

After leaving the Air Force, Dwight embarked on a second career as an artist and has sculpted dozens of memorials and statues on display throughout the country. In particular, he has sculpted Black trailblazers such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Jesse Owens, and George Washington Carver, among others.