Youths inspired by Dallas-Fort Worth flight program started by Tuskegee Airmen

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by By IAN McCANN / The Dallas Morning News

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:44 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 2:08 PM

Marcus Slaughter has long been interested in flying.

Photos by MIKE STONE/Special Contributor
From left: Christa Williams, Joshua Jennigs and Shondrick Jefferson listen to aviation maintenance instructor Alejandro 'Brick' House. In addition to the four-year maintenance training, the program involves flight training.

So when Chester Slaughter found a training program started by members of the Dallas-Fort Worth Tuskegee Airmen chapter, he enrolled his son, a freshman at Fossil Ridge High School in Keller.

"I liked it because the Tuskegee Airmen were involved," said Mr. Slaughter, who lives in Fort Worth. "Nothing like this was around when I was his age."

Marcus, 14, and two others are enrolled in the Claude R. Platte Future Pilots Flight School, hoping to eventually become certified pilots.

But the flight training is only one of two programs that the school provides. The other is a four-year aviation maintenance training program at Dunbar High School in Fort Worth.

That will give students enough training to become certified as maintenance technicians, said teacher and flight school operations director Alejandro "Brick" House.

"These kids, at 18 or 19, can start making $27 to $32 an hour out of school," said Mr. House, a pilot for Bell Helicopter and a major in the Marine Reserve. "We've got an internship program set up so they can get that experience."

American Airlines spokeswoman Sonja Whitemon said some of the company's pilots and maintenance workers have adopted the flight school and are donating both time and money.

"We're involved in helping these kids start out on a career path," she said. "We know there's going to be a wave of retirees in the next 10 or 15 years. We're hoping these kids can be ready then to come in and take some of those jobs."

The program includes classroom work, in which students learn the basics of aerodynamics and aircraft construction, as well as hands-on training.

Students in the program said they're eagerly awaiting the class project: restoring a twin-engine Beechcraft Baron airplane damaged in Hurricane Katrina. The project is expected to take them, working under the supervision of a professional mechanic, about three years.

"I believe we can get it done," said Christa Williams, a 15-year-old freshman at Dunbar. "It sounds like a lot, but when I get done, it'll be worth it."

Christa said she had never thought of working in aviation before signing up for the maintenance technician program. But after one flight, she was hooked, and now she's got her sights set on becoming a pilot.

"I want to get this maintenance thing down," she said. "It'll help me understand the plane better when I fly."

Getting people interested in flying is the reason the program was started, said C.B. Rice, a founder-director of the flight school. But the program also provides a history lesson.

"You're seeing a class of students who have never flown, who have never met a pilot," Mr. Rice said. "We're educating these kids about the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. African-Americans have a rich history in aviation."

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