On March 30, 2019, Legacy Flight Academy, which is based in Oak Park, and Red Tail Scholarship Foundation will present “Eyes Above the Horizon,” a one-day aviation camp at the historic Moton Field Municipal Airport in Tuskegee, AL where the 932 Tuskegee Airmen trained from 1941 to 1946 and were dispatched for 1578 combat missions. From 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., hundreds of youth, ages 10 to 18, will be exposed to STEM, flight introduction and mentorship. The youth will tour the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, receive information on aviation programs, colleges, scholarships and employment opportunities in aviation and the military. The high point of the day is when the youth get to step inside the cockpit with an FAA-certified pilot and fly an airplane.
The camp comes at a critical time in aviation as the industry is facing a major shortage in pilots as many reach the mandatory retirement age and as the demand for air travel increases. According to news sources, some 790,000 new pilots are needed in the global industry over the next 20 years. Of the estimated 160,000 pilots in the U.S., less than 2 percent are African American. But the Legacy Flight Academy is on a mission to change this reality.
“A lot of times it is due to financial reasons, education, expectations and simply just not being exposed to aviation,” said U.S. Air Force Captain Kenneth Thomas, explaining what could be behind the low number of Black pilots.
Since the Legacy Flight Academy started five years ago, Captain Thomas said about 1,000 youth have been introduced to aviation. This year, the attendees will meet top military officials, pilots and students from the Maxwell Air Force Base and the Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery, AL. By exposing many youth to aviation, Thomas said they get to see aviation as something they can do.
“These are the people the Air Force has chosen to be the next leaders of the Air Force,” Captain Thomas said. “These are the people who are already on their way to becoming lieutenant colonels, and we are going to have a high number of them coming out to be mentors for the students. This is going to be huge.”
He added, “All of the volunteers who are aviators are like me. They have similar backgrounds like me, and our presence shows them, one, I can do this because other people with similar backgrounds like me can do this. It connects them with professionals in aviation whom they can lean on in the future should they have questions and concerns and wonder how to actually get into these careers.”
The academy, Thomas said, would not be possible without several key partnerships, such as Golden Eagle Aviation, which is located at Moton Field and has been a supporter from the very beginning.
“Over the next 20 years, nearly 800,000 pilots will be needed in the aviation industry,” said Melody Winston, Executive Director of Golden Eagle Aviation, who resides in the Chicago area. “At Golden Eagle Aviation, we see our role in this partnership as filling that gap by exposing disadvantaged boys and girls of color to aviation through the academy. We are also committed to building on the outstanding legacy of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. My great uncle, Dr. James Williams, was a Tuskegee Airman. My father, Dr. Bill Winston, is a highly decorated, top gun pilot who completed 250 missions in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. There is a need in the military for passionate pilots of color, but also a need in the commercial aviation industry. My passion is filling that gap on the commercial side. Recently, we witnessed one of our former students complete her first flight for a commercial airliner. This is a sign of great things to come from graduates of the academy.”
LFA is a non-profit organization that conducts character-based youth aviation programs focused upon the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, the Legacy Open House seeks to inspire young and old alike with the timeless example of dedication, service, and sacrifice exemplified by the Tuskegee Airmen.
For further information or questions about the academy, visit https://www.legacyflightacademy.org, or follow the event on Facebook at facebook.com/LegacyFlightAcademy to arrange an interview, contact Jerry Thomas at jerry@jerrtyhomas pr.com, or (312) 285-5166.
This article originally appeared in the Chicago Crusader.