School of Aviation Partners With Tuskegee Legacy Flight Academy

Author: Sheron Smith
Posted: Monday, July 6, 2015 12:38 PM
Categories: Pressroom | School of Aviation


Macon, GA


Daniel Johnson of Stone Mountain remembers the thrill of his first plane ride, a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to New York.

He was 3 years old.

It was just fairly recently, though, that the now 18-year-old decided a career in aviation was something he could realistically pursue, which is why he is enrolling in the flight program at Middle Georgia State University this fall.

With so few role models for them in aviation - African Americans represent less than 2 percent of pilots in both military and commercial airlines - "a lot of minority kids don't have the confidence to think that's something they can do," Johnson said. "They don't think they can do more than their parents did."

The mission of the Tuskegee Airmen Legacy Flight Academy, a two-week aviation experience held each summer for minority teens interested in aviation, is to change that perception. Johnson was one of at least a dozen students to participate in this summer's academy, which is now partnering with Middle Georgia State's School of Aviation on the Eastman Campus.

Middle Georgia State sent two 2015 Piper Archers to the academy with instructors Troy Jones, Jordan Thomae, Cliff Appleman and Hadrien LeBlond to train the students in basic flight. In addition, the School of Aviation was scheduled to send another aircraft to Tuskegee with a guest speaker, check pilot Lyle Perry, to discuss flight safety with the students.

The academy, based in Tuskegee, Ala., seeks to inspire participants towards a military or commercial career in aviation, following in the legacy of the pioneering Tuskegee Airmen. Students reside on campus at Tuskegee University and receive flight instruction at Moton Field – the same site where the Tuskegee Airmen first trained more than 70 years ago.

As described by the Tuskegee Airmen’s website, "Tuskegee Airmen" refers to the men and women, African Americans and Caucasians who were involved in the so-called "Tuskegee Experience", the Army Air Corps program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft during World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.

“We are more than honored to participate in the academy,” said Gene Behrends, assistant chief pilot for the School of Aviation’s flight department. “I love the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. The original airmen are all very old now and won’t be with us much longer. Only a few remain today. To use their ‘blood, sweat and tears’ as a way to continue to encourage others to do extraordinary things, and to do it with precision, good character, hard work and self-improvement, is a noble thing.”

The Legacy Flight Academy is taking place from July 11 to July 25 in Tuskegee, but the students and staff flew to the Eastman Campus on July 22 for a field trip. They toured the facilities, checked out aircraft, flew UAVs and were treated to lunch.

Air Force Maj. Kenyatta H. Ruffin, an F-16 pilot, founded the program in 2012. He said Middle Georgia State's contribution of instructors and use of aircraft would be valued at $10,000 if the academy had to pay.

"This is an incredible partnership for us," Ruffin said. "We're looking forward to continuing it for years to come."

For more information about Middle Georgia State's participation in the Legacy Academy, contact Gene Behrends at (478) 448-1057 or gene.behrends@mga.edu.