Where are the minority pilots?
“Black people don’t fly.” That’s what DeAndre Jamison heard, when as a little boy he inquired about becoming a pilot.
Though DeAndre and I had never met in person, we’d corresponded for several months when he emailed that he and his wife Christine would be visiting friends in Page, Arizona, where they’d lived before moving to Indiana.
Page is only 45 minutes from Flagstaff by Flying Carpet, but I hadn’t flown there in years. This seemed a perfect opportunity to meet new friends and revisit cherished terrain. Page perches along stunning Lake Powell, on the Utah border. When I wrote, “Can I fly up and meet you for breakfast?” DeAndre responded enthusiastically.
I launched northward for Page that Saturday morning, pleased to be traveling without novice passengers. For although skies were clear, howling southwest winds generated devilish turbulence downwind of the 12,000-foot San Francisco Peaks, and then along the eastern edges of the Grand and Marble Canyons. Soon cobalt Lake Powell filled my windshield, pierced by golden buttes hinting at those of Monument Valley 60 miles away. I wrestled the airplane to a landing, and was opening the door when a young couple approached.
“I’m DeAndre,” said the young man, pumping my hand, “and this is Christine.”
How cool, to meet a black general aviation pilot! I thought. Then I pondered the strangeness of that reflexive response. Why aren’t there more minority pilots? I vowed to question DeAndre if the opportunity arose…
CONTINUE READING GREG’S FEBRUARY FLYING CARPET COLUMN, “CARRYING THE FLAG,” HERE. (Please allow a moment for the article to load.) This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine, 2/12 issue.
Photo: Pilot DeAndre Jamison checks out the Flying Carpet at Page, Arizona. SEE MORE PHOTOS HERE.
©2012 Gregory N.Brown
If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!
18 thoughts on ““Carrying the Flag,” Greg’s February column & photos”
Nice article, Greg. Skydiving has the same “issue”.
If you hadn’t heard already, Ray Horton, defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals is a student pilot and was even looking to get some mountain flying time from Fred G during last summer’s training camp up in Flagstaff. I suspect he’ll finish his training once football season is over.
I still don’t care for bumpy air. Would it have been a smoother flight to have diverted to the west of Humphreys and Kendrick then proceed NE to Page? Maybe you were willing to tough it out flying solo, but would you have diverted with Jean aboard?
Hi Bruce! Jean would have been fine with the turbulence, but there are very few others I would have invited to join me on such a day. I indeed briefly considered going around to the west, but between Kendricks Peak, the Rim west of Sedona, Mingus Mountain, and especially the Grand Canyon, detouring seemed like it would only lengthen the discomfort rather than mitigating it.
How are you enjoying that knockout Skylane?!! Any exciting trips lately to brag about? Fill me in!
My “knockout” Skylane is getting flown down to Aircrafts-Men at KPRC tomorrow morning for a lengthy service visit. Between its age (’75) and former life as a hangar queen we’re looking at a new right wing bladder, battery replacement, funky master relay, burned out taxi light (going LED for both fronts), and door handle replacement just for starters. I also intend to install a JPI EDM800 engine monitor.
I do have my moments when I have to stand back and go, “Damn! That is one nice-looking airplane.” I will be out and about big time once these squawks get taken care of. My yoke-mounted iPad with ForeFlight makes my plane just an awesome VFR platform. Some kind of Garmin will make it into the panel as I get closer to going for the IFR rating.
Other than two awesome trips to Sedona, my x-country scrapbook still awaits. Kinda embarrassing, frankly.
I just wanted to let you know about the flight school I am training at, they are a non-profit that is involved with giving under privileged kids a leg up and training them to fly. The website is http://westmiflightacademy.org/ and while I am not a poor child (I am a 46 year old beginner) what they are doing for our community is fantastic. I am sure they would love any attention you could give them. Keep up the good work I enjoy your articles in Flight Training each month!
Thanks Mike, for your kind words about my column and especially for the heads up on that flight school. That’s great news! I’ve taken the liberty of reposting your comment on my public Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/GregBrownFlyingCarpet and also that of Flight Training magazine. How far along are you on your own flying?
I have just over 20 hours and am almost ready to solo (as soon as I remember how to land consistantly 🙂 ). So far I am enjoying the expirience and hope to get my certificate sometime later this year.
Great article “Carrying The Flag” in the 02.12 issue of “Flight Training”. I’m an African American pilot with a single engine/instrument rating. I too would like to see more blacks in aviation particularly as pilots. It’s so true that black people are not exposed to this realm. I work with Naval Aviators every day, and 99% of them are caucasians, every now and then we get a black student but never any black female students. Recently I attended a christmas party with high school classmates, (graduated 1974), one of my classmates wanted me to announce to fellow classmates that I was a private pilot, they were proud of this accomplishment because they said that I was the only minority classmate that they knew of who was a pilot. This was very encouraging, afterwards several of them approached me and asked to go flying, made my day. So thanks DeAndre for carrying the torch for African Americans and keep inspiring those kids.
Thank you, Sid! I’ve taken the liberty of reposting your comment on the Flight Training magazine Facebook page, and also plan to put it on my public Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/GregBrownFlyingCarpet . I’d love to hear your ideas on how we can attract more minority pilots to our ranks. Thoughts or suggestions?
I would suggest that aviation exposure be introduced in high schools if possible. Use Ray Horton’s flying pursuits/efforts in a campaign ad to boost interest. Any TV/radio medium would help, maybe Airlines could start mentoring/recruiting programs that target minorities.. Use mediums like AOPA somehow to promote general avaition in minority settings. Also posting aviation sucess stories on Facebook, You Tube, Twitter could help as well. Just a few suggestions.
Hello all! I appreciate everyone’s comments and as the featured subject of Greg’s column, I’d just like to share a couple of thoughts from my perspective. As a graduate student in the University of Michigan’s School of Education, we were reminded daily of the awesome responsibility of inspiring students to dream big. That is a theme which has stuck with me throughout my personal and professional life.
I say that to say this…On the surface, Greg’s article focuses on me, Leslie, the Tuskegee airmen (who all happen to be black) and poses the question, “Where are the minority pilots?” The comments trickling in over the past couple of weeks have been encouraging, but I wish I could say that I’m not disappointed at the short-sighted thinking. I suspect the word “minority” and the stigma associated with it, play a role in that.
With all due respect, it’s great to hear from my fellow black GA pilots and of the occasional black flight instructor. However, minorities are not only underprivileged kids or black GA pilots. How about women? Russ, the airline pilot mentioned in the article, estimated the percentage of women flying commercially to be 1-2%! (Am i the only one who finds this disturbing?) Hispanics, Native Americans (Greg has personal experience there), members of rural communities, people with disabilities (how about Jessica Cox), and men in nursing careers are all examples of minorities who are potential pilots.
Thinking outside of the box for a moment – how about a program that exposes abused people (women OR men) to flight training? In my mind, piloting an airplane is about control – isn’t this exactly what’s been taken away from these people? Sure, a program like this probably will not yield a high retention rate, but it is potentially an untapped market and could help someone get their life back together.
I don’t claim to have the answer, but I know it will take some creative thinking to expand the GA community. I sincerely thank Greg for inspiring me to continue my Private Pilot pursuit and giving my story a chance to live and breathe in his fantastic column! Hopefully, I’ve inspired you all to dream big – now let’s put our heads together and recruit some new pilots!
Excellent column I found Carrying The Flag to be both informative and inspiring. I am an African American Pilot and I was inspired by my non pilot father who would park near KBUF when I was a young child and watch airplanes. The excitement my father had for flying and airplanes was contagious. I am currently an ATP based in Amman Jordan instructing on the Challenger 604. My memories of my flight training both military and civilian are of times in which my fathers love of aviation pushed me through every moment of adversity. Although my father had passed away by the time I completed my Military Rotary Wing training it was still a great motivator to have someone in your life who loved airplanes. My method of exposing minorities to aviation is a little unorthodox but effective. I am actually from the inner city of Buffalo New York and I make a point of spending a day walking around the hood as they say asking questions about airplanes to young people who look at me like I am an alien in my pilot uniform. I am only in the US four months out of the year and I am the proud owner of a 1947 Stinson 108 Voyager based at 9G6 Pine Hill New York. Keep the columns coming. firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your gracious comments, Arnold! One thing that comes through from almost every pilot seems to be meaningful encouragement from one’s parents for kids to follow their dreams, whatever they may be. Too bad your father couldn’t be there to savor your accomplishments, after offering such support. Thank you for sharing your comments and your story. Thanks especially for serving our country!
Great article on “Where are the minority pilots?” I agree that the majority of African-American kids and adults feel that being a pilot is something they cannot achieve. Lack of role models. I began flying in 1987, and I am one of only two black flight instructors in the state of Nebraska. Over the past two years, the flight school where I instruct has been working with the public school system and community action programs, to get minorities involved in aviation. Our program gets them to realize there is a whole other world outside of TV, video games, and their own neighborhood.
This is a virtual untapped resource to replenish the waning pilot numbers.
Please feel free to contact me with any comments at, email@example.com.
Thanks much for taking time to write! As an African-American CFI, no one is better qualified than you to help “carry the flag.”
If you have any ideas as to how we as an industry might grow pilot diversity, I’d love to hear them!
What airport do you fly out of, Jerome? Thanks for writing, and especially for “carrying the flag!”
Good evening Greg,
I instruct at Eppley Airfield in Omaha, NE. Our flight school is Flight! Nebraska Group and we are located on the east side of the field in the TACAir FBO.
One of the easiest ways to grow diversity in the industry is by being an ambassador to aviation. Going out and talking to civic groups, school assemblies, universities, or any meeting will help advocate and stimulate the interest in aviation.
Another way is to invite people out the airport on a Saturday afternoon for a tour and a trip around the pattern. Just this simple 10 minute experience will generate more interest in aviation than any Q & A session.
Once you have sparked the interest, you have to keep your student engaged by being innovative and forward thinking with their training.
Thank you for sharing the great advice, Jerome, and for inspiring us in spreading the word about general aviation through your example!
Much as this article is right, the statement that hits home for me more than anything is …’the occasional awkward stares I get when I fly into different airports can be uncomfortable’. Yes, I get that too! Perhaps, I flew in from outer space.
I would like anyone who reads this to take a look at this website: http://www.aviationcareerenrichment.org. Currently, I have two minority female students in my class and I am proud of them.
Alfred Adjokatcher, MAS
Instructor & Safety Manager- Aviation Career Enrichment Academy,
Fulton County Airport -Brown Field,
Just checked out your site, Alfred. A very cool program you run! I am sharing it with DeAndre. Thank you!