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Vance instructor pilots drive diversity through community outreach

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Courtland White
  • 33rd Flying Training Squadron

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Legacy Flight Academy is a non-profit group that brings the thrill of aviation to minority and underrepresented youth.

Two Team Vance pilots were recently invited to take part in a weekend-long effort to help LFA bring future diversity to the rated force in Charleston, South Carolina.

Instructor pilots with the 33rd Flying Training Squadron, 1st Lts. Courtland White and Alex Lewit, planned to join forces with pilots from across the nation to show 175 minority children what flying feels like. 

They left Vance Air Force Base in a T-6A Texan II and made it as far as Florida before weather forced them to abort the plan and return to Oklahoma.

For both aviators, it was disappointing to miss the event, but it did not diminish how important they believe the LFA mission is to the future of Air Force.

“Most children in underrepresented communities don’t even realize they have the option of becoming a military aviator,” said White. “Programs that Legacy Flight Academy help the Air Force seek out our country’s best and brightest minds in every corner of society.” 

Legacy Flight Academy provides education and resources for students pursuing a career in aviation with a strong emphasis on minority youths, said White. “Their approach raises awareness, piques interest and provides ongoing chances for young people to learn about and pursue careers in aerospace, STEM, and as military officers,” said White.

The LFA is run by a group with deep ties with the Air Force. The board president is Maj. Kenneth Thomas, a C-130 navigator with the Air Force Reserve and the Diversity and Inclusion project officer at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia.

The board vice president is Lt. Col. Aaron Jones, an active duty T-6A instructor pilot with more than 2,000 hours in the F-15E Strike Eagle, A-29 Super Tucano, T-6A Texan II and the T-38 Talon.

Also on the board is Air Force Maj. Kristofer Duckett, a Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance pilot.

Legacy Flight Academy is dedicated to passing on the history and achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of primarily African American military pilots and airmen who fought in World War II.

White and Lewit wanted to participate in the LFA event in Charleston because, according to White, diversity is the nation’s greatest asset. No other nation in the world is host to as many unique cultures, ethnicities and communities as the United States, she said.

“Despite the Air Force's efforts to establish a force that leverages diversity as an asset, of the approximately 13,000 pilots currently serving in the Air Force, there’s only about 700 Latin American pilots, 300 Asian pilots, and 300 African American pilots,” said White.

She believes the solution to this issue can be reached through focused community outreach and representation within the force.

The Charleston LFA event was called “Eyes Above the Horizon,” a full-day outreach and learning program that develops and fosters an interest in aerospace careers through an introductory flight, mentorship, group events and immersion into the rich history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Students are motivated to look above their current circumstances and discover inspiration to succeed in their diverse professional and personal pursuits during the event. Every single kid gets to fly an aircraft for the first time.

Events like this create a unique occasion to welcome more diversity to the Air Force through effective education, communication and opportunity. “If we can inspire just 100 more kids to pursue and achieve a career as a rated military officer and show them the steps to achieve these dreams, that would represent a nearly 10% increase in the number of minority aviators in our Air Force, said White.

“We know what it takes to make the change,” said White. “If the pursuit of merit-based diversification is truly a priority for the Air Force, then we must continue to support, promote and grow programs like FLA.”