May 30, 2011
(McClellan Jet Center)
Youth Get First-Hand Pilot Lesson
By: Antonio R. Harvey, Sacramento Observer Staff Writer, 5-11-2011
If there is any person or group that can expose Black youth to the field of aviation, the local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen is definitely at the top of the list.
Last weekend, the George S. "Spanky" Roberts chapter hosted its "Second Annual Tuskegee Airmen Fly-in and Picnic" at McClellan Park. With the use of four airplanes, the Tuskegee Airmen and volunteer pilots flew 39 kids; up from 27 the following year, the event debuted.
"Many of these kids are underrepresented in their class," said retired Col Thomas O. Sherman (USAF Reserve), the chapter's youth director. "For many of them, this is their first-time ever being near an aircraft, and in some cases, first time flying in an airplane."
Col. Sherman said all of the pilots participating in the event were Black aerial aviators. One pilot at the event had a replica "Red Tail" airplane (a signature aircraft used by Tuskegee Airmen pilots) at the event that he himself built.
"This is something that children of color need to see," Sherman said. "They need to see that the African American race can own their own airplanes and they can fly airplanes. This event is also an opportunity to meet original Tuskegee Airmen," he added. Col. Sherman is also the youth director for the Western Region of the Tuskegee Airmen.
The second of four youth events, a similar Fly-in is scheduled for July 30 at the Hayward Executive Airport. The Sacramento chapter co-host the event with the San Francisco Bay Area chapter and the Bay Area Black Pilots Associate. "More than 600 people attended last year's event in the Bay Area and the pilots flew 59 youth," Col. Sherman said, "This is something we do as a chapter and we do in concert with other chapters and aviation related organizations".
As part of the "Tuskegee Experiment; the Congress mandated an all-African American flying unit within the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941. In June, the 99th Fighter Squadron formed at Tuskegee Instituted, a historically Black college founded by Booker T. Washington.
The ruling by the Congress, Sherman told The OBSERVER, provided "choices" and opportunities for African Americans who wanted to be in the field of aviation.
"If it wasn't for the Tuskegee Experiment at Tuskegee Institute back in the 1940's, (Blacks) would have been excluded from that activity," Sherman said, "Society then felt that Blacks, African Americans, did not have the intelligence nor the courage to fly in combat…. the Tuskegee Airmen proved them wrong."