Bessie's yearning to "amount to something" was now a driving force in her goal to become a pilot. When Bessie couldn't find anyone to teach her to fly, she took the advice of publisher Robert Abbott and prepared herself to attend aviation school in France. Having secured funding from several sources and received a passport with English and French visas, Bessie departed for France in November of 1920. She completed in seven months, a ten month course at the Ecole d'Aviation des Freres Caudon at Le Crotoy in the Somme. Learning to fly in a French Nieuport Type 82, Bessie's schooling included "tail spins, banking and looping the loop." She received her license from the renowned Federation Aeronautique Internationale(FAI) on June 15, 1921. Her birthplace was listed as Atlanta, Texas, but her age was listed as 25(the figure she had given passport authorities in Chicago) rather than 29 that she actually was. The license did not indicate that Bessie was the first black woman to ever earn a license from the prestigious FAI nor that she was the only woman of the sixty-two candidates to earn FAI licenses during that six-month period.

Bessie spent three additional months training in France before departing for New York on September 16, 1921 aboard the S. S. Manchuria. She was greeted by a surprising amount of press coverage upon her return to the United States. Flying as entertainment could provide financial benefits for an aviator but required skills that Bessie did not possess. Once again, Bessie departed for France, arriving in Le Havre on February 28, 1922. She received advanced training in the Nieuport, returning to New York in August. During her European stay, she visited plane manufacturers in Holland and Germany.

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