Cornelius Coffey was born in 1903 and had his first airplane ride in 1919. He graduated from an automotive engineering school in 1925 and an aviation mechanics school in Chicago, Illinois, in 1931. He co-organized the Challenger Air Pilots Association with John Robinson to promote flying among blacks in the Chicago area, built an airport in Robbins, Illinois, and opened an aeronautics school. In 1937 he earned his transport license and opened the Coffey School of Aeronautics. In 1939 the African-American communities in Chicago and Washington, D.C. successfully lobbied to have Coffey's school included in the CPT Program; Coffey trained black pilots and flight instructors throughout World War II. After the war, Coffey joined the Chicago Board of Education and established an aircraft mechanics training and licensing program in the city's high schools. Coffey retired in 1969 and has since acted as a licensed mechanic examiner and aircraft inspector.