By Zach Porter
Although some of them had never flown on an airliner and others had already piloted small planes, the one thing the Clayton County students attending Delta Air Lines' Dream Flight 2004 had in common was their love for aviation.
These local aviation enthusiasts attended various piloting related camps this summer and on Wednesday flew a chartered Delta flight to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport near Washington D.C. to learn more about the history of aviation by viewing a generous collection of historical aircraft.
Delta and the Organization of Black Airline Pilots (OBAP) partnered up for the fifth year to offer local minorities a chance to learn about career opportunities in aviation as well as their own historic contributions to the field by people such as the Tuskegee Airmen.
In attendance were Clayton County students involved in the Atlanta Aviation Career Education (A.C.E.) Camp program, which is hosted by OBAP, The FlightLine Camp for advanced students in aviation and the Students Preparing for Aviation Related Careers-A.C.E. camp.
The Dream Flight destination was chosen because it opened last December and has a rich history of aviation on display. The center has 82 aircrafts and 61 spacecrafts including such heavyweights as the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and the SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest airplane ever built. The centerpiece aviation hangar which houses the aircrafts is longer than three football fields and is 293,707 square feet. The new center was built because the majority of the Smithsonian's collection was too large to be transported or displayed at the museum's flagship building on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
The trip to the Smithsonian was the first ride in an airplane for some.
"I was a little bit nervous" admitted Mt. Zion High School freshman Adrian Weathers, "It was not as scary as I thought it might be though."
Weather's classmate Kamau Jenkins complained of his ears popping due to the high altitude and asked if there would be time to purchase some chewing gum for the flight back. Others, such as Riverdale High School senior Christopher Allen, an aviation student this summer with the FlightLine Camp, described his privileged view from the jumpseat of the cockpit as a smooth ride. Allen watched the captain and co-pilot's procedures from takeoff until they reached a cruising altitude and said that he now has a better understanding of what a pilot does.
"What sounds like a foreign language to some is familiar to me because of my learning experience at the camp," said Allen of the lingo that pilots used in the cockpit.
The FlightLine program is a more extensive version of the A.C.E camp where only 10 students are selected for the two-week camp. Students in this program can get credit hours toward their pilot license requirements.
At the museum students watched an IMAX movie, "Magic of Flight" before touring the facility.
"It nearly gave me a heart attack," said Kamau Jenkins of the film's more jaw-dropping flight sequences.
Christopher Allen noted that seeing the Mustang that the Tuskegee Airmen flew during World War II was a nice part of the tour.
The students all agreed that what inspired them to learn about aviation was hearing about the Tuskegee Airmen in school.
"They were the only squad to never lose a bomber, and the first African-Americans ever to fly in a war for the U.S, " said Adrian Weathers. Weathers also mentioned that he was motivated to write an essay and apply for the camp because some of the airmen visited his school.
"They were our leaders and torchbearers, we walk on their shoulders. They opened the door for us to come behind them," said OBAP Vice President Karl Minter of the Airmen.
Many other officials and volunteers with Dream Flight felt that it was a responsibility to be there for the aspiring aviators. Delta Capt. Brian E. Todd volunteered his time for the fourth year and piloted the flight.
"When I was a kid, I did not have friends or family who could properly advise me about a career in aviation. I had to learn on my own," Todd said.
Darin L. Paul, deputy camp director with A.C.E. 2, another aviation program sponsored by Delta and OBAP, emphasized the function of black role models in aviation.
"We do it because it's an opportunity for students to see people who look like them doing jobs they can do."
Another A.C.E camp director, Renee Chapman of Jonesboro, said that it was important to turn the young black students onto other career options such as the airline industry. Chapman, who works as an air traffic controller in Hampton, said the museum visit was important to students because, "It's not often we get to touch history."