NEW WINDSOR – On a beautiful sunny day, the RedTail Flight Academy took flight from New York Stewart International Airport – metaphorically speaking.
The inaugural class will consist of seven minority youth from underserved communities to develop a pipeline of diverse aviators and future leaders in the industry. This will happen in part due to the organizations partnership with Wheels Up, a private aviation company. In addition to providing two internships to academy graduates, Wheels Up will donate $1,000 from every new Core Memberships sign up to the RedTail Academy.
The partnership between the two organizations reflects RedTail Flight Academy’s commitment of developing highly qualified talent by partnering with industry leaders to host internships, lectures, roundtables, shadowing and mentoring opportunities.
When Glen Fraser, an airline pilot and Director of Lee A. Archer Jr. Red Tail Youth Flying Program, began his career over twenty years ago, he noticed there were not many people who looked like him in the cockpit. He noted, “Not much has changed since then,” but hopes this program will make a difference.
That’s because this training program, with a 10-month curriculum, is certifying students between the ages of 18-21 with a FAA Approved 14 CFR Part 141 multi-engine commercial pilot license and an instrument rating. The goal is to increase the percentage of minority aviators from less than 2.5% today, to at least 4% in the next 10 years.
By some estimates, over the next 20 years, 80,000 airline pilots are retiring. United Airlines alone estimates half of their 12,500 pilots will retire over the next ten years, and Boeing is estimating that more than 700,000 commercial pilots will be needed worldwide over the next 20 years, creating a huge demand for what the program is offering.
The opening celebration of the state-of-the-art flight academy also paid tribute to the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, for whom the academy is named. Original documented Tuskegee Airmen Lieutenant Colonel Enoch Woodhouse attended the ceremony and was the keynote speaker.
Woodhouse is one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen. Now 95, he spoke extensively about his life experiences and in particular, how he became a member of America’s first all-Black combat flying unit. He was encouraged to serve in the military by his mother following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1944 at the age of 17 he enlisted in the US Army Air Corps.
“Blacks were told that they lacked intelligence,” said Woodhouse. He spoke of how they (Blacks) were utilized only in support positions.
He recalled the segregated conditions in Tuskegee, Ala., where the Tuskegee Airmen trained in preparation for battle during World War II. It was during the war, in the air, that the Tuskegee Airmen proved themselves as they escorted bomber planes successfully, never losing a bomber.
The inaugural class seemed to be captivated by Woodhouse, hanging onto his every word, as he encouraged them to follow their dreams, and to stand on the shoulders of the mighty Tuskegee Airmen who paved the way.