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VOL. 133 | NO. 126 | Monday, June 25, 2018

OBAP Launches Luke Weathers Flight Academy in Olive Branch

By Michael Waddell

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With initial plans to increase diversity of the airline industry by 50 pilots per year within the next five years, the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals has opened the Lt. Col. Luke Weathers Jr. Flight Academy at the Olive Branch Airport.

The academy also hopes to train more than 225 Memphis-area high school students to become certified flight instructors or secure private and instrument ratings by the year 2025.

Attendees at the Wednesday, June 20, opening at the airport’s north hangar on Jack Cross Road included Olive Branch Mayor Scott Phillips, along with 50 Memphis-area students from the organization's Memphis Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academy and from the East High School T-Stem Academy. The students were able to take orientation flights, many of them flying for the first time.

The Lt. Col. Luke Weathers Jr. Flight Academy aims to train more than 225 Memphis-area high school students to become certified flight instructors or secure private and instrument ratings by the year 2025. (Submitted)

“The kids that we see walking around today who are part of the program may possibly be the ones who are flying us one day,” said Phillips, who mentioned the fact that a good number of FedEx’s 4,300 pilots are nearing retirement age. “This is a prime opportunity for all of the young people out there. There’s going to be jobs [available] for the next 10 years.”

Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, attendees toured the new facility, which features historical exhibits and various flight simulators.

“I’m trying to get my grandson involved in aviation,” said Mubaarik Sulaimaan, who brought his grandson, Jaheim, to the event. “I’m trying to introduce him to everything.”

Lt. Col. Luke Weathers Jr., a member of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew 112 combat missions, was the first African-American air-traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration at the Memphis International Airport.

“My father had a vision of flight school and was always ahead of his time,” said Trina Weathers-Boyce, Weathers’ youngest daughter. “When he retired in 1985, he would go back across the country implementing and instilling his vision and passing his torch to the aviators so that they could carry on his legacy so that it would never die. Today is the result of that.”

“Aviation was his life,” added his son, Luke Weathers III.

The new flight academy will offer Far 141 and 161 Flight Training, JET Transition Training, a Maintenance and Air Traffic Control Academy, UAV Pilot Training, Air Force Candidate Flight Training and a Military Rotor Fixed Wing Transition program for helicopter pilots seeking to broaden their skillset.

On June 25, 1945, Weathers Jr. became the first African-American to receive the key to the City of Memphis declaring the day "Luke Weathers, Jr. Day."

The establishment of the LWFA offers training opportunities for students from Memphis-area schools who possess a desire to fly.

“We’re very excited to be a part of OBAP and the organizations to help train the future airline pilots and aviation professionals,” said Capt. Ken Hammerton, who operates Air Venture Flight Center along with his wife.

Representatives from the local aviation industry were also on hand to tout the growing need for airline maintenance technicians (AMTs).

“You can’t fly a broken airplane,” joked Maurice Thomas, senior manager of FedEx Aircraft Maintenance. “Before all of that takes place, you have to have someone to maintain that aircraft. There’s going to be a tremendous shortage over the next 10 years, not only for pilots but also for people to maintain those aircraft.”

He cites a 4.9 percent increase in AMTs expected over the next decade compared to a 9 percent increase in airline manufacturing expected during that same time.

OBAP is a nonprofit organization founded in 1976 that focuses on the encouragement and advancement of minorities in all aviation and aerospace careers.

"Through the establishment of the Luke Weathers Flight Academy, OBAP is poised to further its commitment to diversifying the industry – offering competitive training, localized support, need-based grants and scholarships," Capt. Albert Glenn, academy director and a FedEx 777 pilot, said in a prepared statement. "Through OBAP, and strategic community partners, exemplary cadets in the Academy can also benefit from access to a network of more than 3,000 aerospace professionals worldwide.”

Community partners on the new academy include Shelby County Schools, Air Venture Flight Center, CTI Professional Flight Training, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees (NBCFAE), Memphis Blackhawks, Tuskegee Next and Taste of Aviation.

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