ATLANTA – High school students here are learning about aviation from the first African-American military pilots.
The Tuskegee airmen opened doors for thousands of black Americans. This week, their legacy lives on as 30 Atlanta minority students are working with the airmen and getting hands-on aviation training and exposure to aviation careers.
To qualify for the program, students were required to write essays, maintain a predetermined GPA and be recommended by a guidance counselor.
Atlanta’s Val Archer was one of the Tuskegee airmen who agreed to participate in the program and mentor the students.
“I’m hoping these kids will benefit from some of the things that I’m able to share. It would have made so much difference if I had the opportunity these kids do,” he said.
The students are drawing inspiration in a week of classes and actual hands-on training. They told WSB-TV’s Diana Davis that meeting the airmen is something they won’t soon forget.
“I’ve only read about them in textbooks, but when you actually meet them in real life, it’s just an amazing feeling,” said Cobb County’s Carl Vandiver.
The program is organized by the Atlanta chapter of the Tuskegee airmen and sponsored by Delta Air Lines. Program director and Delta pilot Drew Fellers said he caught the flying bug on his grandfather’s farm.
“I saw a crop duster come over one day and my grandfather loved airplanes and took me to the airport, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” he said.
Student Amber Walliktt said she is interested in becoming an air-traffic controller, but has now been exposed to more aviation opportunities than she realized existed.
“Because there are so many different jobs and so many different opportunities in this industry, I don’t want to close the door. I mean, you’ve got to keep your options open,” she said.
All the students are trained in Delta’s 767 simulator.
“This is my first time flying a plane and it’s like, ‘Whoa, my dream is actually coming to life,’” said Vandiver.
It’s a dream that working pilots hope won’t be as tough as it was for them to realize. Fellers worked 12 years as a Delta baggage-handler mechanic to pay for flight school.
“I want to keep people from going that long route, so I’m trying to give them nuggets that I learned along the way,” said Fellers.
This is the eighth year for the Tuskegee training program. They’re hoping they can enroll more students every summer.