For 17-year-old Gabriel Carothers of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Black History Month is not about the past because he’s making it in real time. When the teenager turned 17, he made history as the state’s youngest African-American licensed pilot.
“I wasn’t really thinking about making history, I was just thinking about flying and doing what I like to do everyday,” Carothers told KOAT.
Carothers is no stranger to the friendly skies. He recalled one of his earliest moments his father took him and his brother up in the air.
“My father had a family friend who had an airplane that used to fly us. He thought it’d definitely be interesting to take me and my brother up for a flight when we were 5 and 6 years old,” Carothers said.
The teenage pilot completed his private pilot check ride just 10 days after his 17th birthday on July 25. The young aviator followed in the footsteps of his father, who is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot.
Carothers’ father, Alex Carothers, is the president of the General Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., which is registered as a nonprofit. The organization, named after the first African-American pilot in the Air Force Thunderbirds, exposes 60 young people from underrepresented communities to aviation and STEM with a hands-on aviation camp.
In 2017, at 11 years old, Gabriel Carothers participated in his father’s camp. At the time, he said his favorite part was flying a Cessna and his least favorite part was the reading material prior to taking off.
Carothers grew to love all aspects of aviation. He said he designed and built his own flight simulator computer when he was 14 years old to hone his skills for when he is in an actual cockpit.
“I had to do research on what went into a computer and then what parts and components were needed to make sure it worked,” Carothers told KOAT.
“Learning all the intricate pieces of it, the programming of it in the simulator itself was another thing,” he continued.
Carothers’ emergence into aviation comes at a ripe time as the industry makes more intentional efforts to attract Black and brown and female pilots into the cockpit. NBC News reports less than two percent of pilots flying today are Black. Barriers such as the high cost of flight school have prohibited many people from underserved communities from pursuing careers in aviation.
As the aviation industry combats a looming pilot shortage, recruitment has been more top of mind. Aviation experts estimate the worldwide shortage will be 34,000 by 2025. United Airlines launched its Aviate program last year with an ambitious goal to hire at least 10,000 pilots within the next eight years.
Social media users heaped praise upon the New Mexico teen for what he has accomplished so far in his young life.
“What an outstanding role model,” Sylvia Flores wrote on a Facebook post.
Other social media users went a step further by acknowledging Carothers doing what he did as a Black male and expressed why that matters.
“It matters because systemic racism exists and there are far more barriers to Blacks having opportunities like this than there are for white people. Ignoring the fact that he is Black would be a disrespectful to all of the barriers he has overcome and the hope that he is giving to other Black children. So, yeah. It matters,” Jerry Ann Jones wrote on Facebook.
Carothers is proud of his historic accomplishment occurring in the midst of Black History Month.
“The airplane doesn’t care what color you are, just that you obey the laws of flight. The distinction is only made out the hope that other faces like mine will come to the realization that they too can take to the air – the sky is not the limit!” he said to Atlanta Black Star.
As Carothers continues to grow as a pilot, he wants to learn how to fly vintage aircraft before continuing to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the Air Force Academy.