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July 13, 2010 > Pilots' open house

Pilots' open house

By Simon Wong
Photos By Simon Wong

Six months in the planning, the Bay Area Black Pilots Association, East Bay Aviators, Inc. and Tuskegee Airmen Inc. hosted the Third Annual Open House at Hayward Executive Airport on July 10, 2010.

More than 400 visitors attended what is believed to be the Bay Area's only aviation event that combines history, aviation, culture and community. Open to all, 56 young visitors enjoyed free plane rides and as many experienced the flight simulator at California Airways, a fixed base operator, and toured the Hayward Control Tower. UC Berkeley retiree Ida J. Dunson described her flight as "the best 86th birthday present" she could have had.

"The coalition was formed to bring more youth into aviation particularly African-American and minority youth who are typically under-represented in this field," said Ben L. Henderson, Executive Director, East Bay Aviators, Inc. "Of course, all youth are welcome. Many don't realize they have career choices; we aim to raise their awareness of the possibilities open to them. Youth are the future of aviation in the United States."

Non-profit East Bay Aviators Inc. trades as Motivation and Learning Through Aviation (MALTA) and has developed the 332nd Fighter Group Historical Replica Project (332nd FGHRP) which maintains the traditions and the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen who viewed education as the key to opportunity and were the first generation of African-American military aviators to serve the United States with honor during World War II.

"332nd FGHRP encourages youth-involvement in aviation to realize their potential as assets to their communities and fellow human beings. Hands-on training and classroom instruction enables participants to soar mentally and physically," Henderson explained. "They learn the need for discipline and respect around aircraft and in all their endeavors.

"Our program is modeled on one at Compton, California Airport. A 16-year old African-American girl from the 'Tomorrow's Aviation Museum' recently flew from Compton to Washington DC with a World War II Tuskegee Airman and her flight instructor as passengers," he added.

Pilots at the Open House volunteer their time and aircraft. All are positive role models for the young. Given the types of aircraft flown, the discipline and skills required of a pilot are evident; passengers can observe the instrumentation and pilot at close quarters from their seats during flight. The simulator also left many more appreciative of pilots' ability to multi-task.

The event attracts visitors from all over the Bay Area and beyond. One pilot in southern California heard about the event and flew to Hayward Executive Airport to participate. Patricia Adelekan, founder and CEO of Youth-on-the-Move, travelled from Anaheim to witness the event.

Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., whose motto is "Giving History a Future," provided the Open House with historical perspective, heritage and pedigree. Veterans from the William "Bill" Campbell Chapter (San Francisco) and George S. "Spanky" Roberts Chapter (Sacramento) signed autographs, posed for photographs and chatted with visitors. Signed memorabilia was raffled.

A total of 994 pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Army Flying School between March 7, 1942 and June 29, 1946. The "Tuskegee Experience" is an important part of history for Black citizens and for the nation. Not only did this segregated unit of military airmen achieve a near-perfect World War II combat record over Germany, Italy and North Africa, they successfully fought a battle against racism which caused the War Department to reappraise its policies and desegregate the military.

"I'd like to thank the Bay Area Black Pilots Association, East Bay Aviators, the Tuskegee Airmen and Civil Air Patrol cadets for their participation in this wonderful event which improves each year. The area, adjacent to Hayward Executive Airport, formerly occupied by the California Air National Guard will eventually be redeveloped. Part of that will include a museum dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen. We need to ensure everyone knows what's happening and to engage the community in the city and airport's efforts," stated Hayward Councilman Olden Henson.

"The sponsor-organizations and this event need public support. If we invest funds and effort into these activities we can turn around the lives of many kids BEFORE they get into trouble. That's our goal. I hope that next year, we'll have a bigger crowd so more kids can fly," Henderson concluded.

For more information about East Bay Aviators (MALTA) or to make a donation, visit www.maltaviation.org, call Ben Henderson on (510) 259-1062 or email donations@maltaviation.org.

For more information about the Bay Area Black Pilots Association, visit www.babpa.com, call (510) 473-7055 or email president@babpa.com.

For more information about Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., visit www.tuskegeeairmen.org. For details about the William "Bill" Campbell Chapter (San Francisco), visit www.tai-sfba.org, call Dave Cunningham on (510) 658-7742 or email piperlvr@pacbell.net. For information about the George S. "Spanky" Roberts Chapter (Sacramento), call Paul Green, Jr. on (916) 991-6180 or email pgreenjr1@juno.com.

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