Legacy of Tuskegee Airmen lives on with Legacy Flight Academy

NEXT GENERATION PILOTS attending the Eyes Above the Horizon aviation camp in Tuskegee, Ala. experience the thrill of sitting in a helicopter cockpit.

Chicago-area Academy Exposes Youth to Careers in Aviation

The number of legendary Tuskegee Airmen is getting smaller every year.

But members of the nation’s first Black group of military aviators who are still alive and those who have ascended into glory must be proud of what some current top Black military pilots are doing in their memory and to increase the number of Black pilots.

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.

FLYING IS FUN! Students in the Eyes on the Horizon aviation program experience the real thing when they don authentic flight suits in preparation for entering the flight simulator cockpit.

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.

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  1. Greetings, I’m Ron Brewington, a Tuskegee Airmen historian. While reading the article, “Legacy of Tuskegee Airmen Lives On With Legacy Flight Academy,” I noted an error in paragraph 3, sentence 1: “..where the 932 Tuskegee Airmen trained from 1941 to 1946..”

    According to researcher/historian and DOTA Theopolis W. Johnson, the following information relates to the “Tuskegee Experience”:

    “That is….anyone–man or woman, military or civilian, black or white–who served at Tuskegee Army Air Field or in any of the programs stemming from the ‘Tuskegee Experience’ between the years 1941 and 1949 is considered to be a documented original Tuskegee Airman (DOTA).”

    There were an estimated 16-19,000 persons in the above category of which 14,632 persons have been personally documented by Johnson. (As of 10/16/05)

    He also notes that:

    925 – American pilot graduates
    5 – Haitian pilot graduates
    11 – Instructor pilot graduates
    51 – Liaison pilot graduates

    Total pilot graduates: 992

    There were 44 classes that graduated during the “Tuskegee Experience.”

    On 22 March 1941, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was activated at Chanute Field, Illinois under the command of Captain Harold R. Maddux, a white officer, but composed of African-American enlisted men. [Maurer, Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, War World II (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1969) p. 329]

    On 19 July 1941, the first class of aviation cadets (42-C) entered Pre-Flight Training at Tuskegee Institute. It included Capt. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. and twelve other cadets.

    The first class (42C-SE) graduated 5 Single Engine pilots (including then Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.) on March 7, 1942.

    The last class (Class 46C) graduated with 8 Single Engine graduates and 5 Twin Engine graduates on June 28, 1946.

    • 2,483 persons were pilot trainees at Moton Field and Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF), located in Tuskegee, AL, from July 19, 1941 until June 28, 1946.

    • 992 pilots (fighter and bomber) graduated from Tuskegee AAF.

    • Tuskegee AAF closed August 20, 1946.

    • Of the graduates, 355 fighter pilots deployed overseas (Europe) for combat duty. After Class 44I, no further graduate single engine fighter pilots were sent overseas.

    It is requested that the error be corrected…Thanks!!!


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