By Alberto Gilman
On Friday, Sept. 10, Retired Lt. Col. Glendon Fraser and other distinguished guests welcomed seven inaugural students of the new The RedTail Flight Academy (RFA) to Newburgh.
Over the course of the next ten months, at New York Stewart International Airport, these students will operate, fly and maintain aircrafts. In order for these students to be selected for this program, they submitted their applications to various Tuskegee Airmen chapters across the country and were selected to participate in the program.
The inaugural class of the RedTail Flight Academy includes; Traye Jackson of Denver, CO, Jarious Gordon of Orlando, FL, siblings Calvin and Jasmine Frederick of Homestead, FL, Aliyyah Adio of Atlanta, GA, Anthony William Gilbert of Frederiksted, St. Croix, and Mya Coley of Chicago, IL. Coley will serve as a specialized certified student instructor for the class.
Fraser’s vision, with partners Carlos Rodriguez and Sheldon Richards (who was not in attendance), is that with this program these students will receive pilot certification, plane instrument training and the ability to advance in their aviation careers. Two students from the inaugural class were also offered internships provided by the Wheels Up organization, who have partnered with the RedTail Flight Academy. For this program, the hope is to inspire and serve underprivileged communities, allowing for minority growth in the aviation industry.
The opening ceremony began with the pledge, color guard and words from Anne Palmer of The Palmer Group, who is the daughter of an original documented Tuskegee Airmen.
Retired Lt. Col. Enoch Woodhouse, an original Tuskegee Airmen, spoke and shared stories of the Tuskegee Airmen and the many challenges that African Americans faced during segregation back home and in the armed forces. For the class, Woodhouse congratulates the class and wishes continued success as they move forward in their education and future careers.
United Airlines pilot Carole Hopson, author of the Bessie Coleman-inspired novel “A Pair of Wings”she described her career as having gone through a variety of challenges and changes, but she stayed true to her dream and became a pilot through her hard work and dedication.
Also in attendance were Don Dwyer of Guardian Jet, Richard Walsh, Vice President of Aviation, Thomas W. Bergeson, COO of Wheels Up, Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Board President Jerry “Hawk” Burton and other honored guests, community partners, and student families.
The RedTail Flight Academy (RFA) continues the legacy of the legendary aviator group known as the Tuskegee Airmen. This group was composed of African American airmen who served during World War II. It was at Tuskegee Institute (now known as Tuskegee University) where these men learned to operate aircrafts and trained for combat.
Throughout his career, Lt. Col. Fraser is happy to see the fruits of his labor in the future leaders who come back and share their experiences with the next generation.
Prior to the ceremony and proceedings, Fraser spoke about his hope for the program and the importance of the program for the next generation of aviators.
“I don’t need personal wealth or personal gratitude, but what I do love to see is when our young folks come back and are able to articulate the things that we’ve been talking to them about,” Fraser said.
Fraser served as the first president of the Major General Irene Trowell-Harris Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc located at Stewart Airport. Currently, he serves as the Director of the Lee A. Archer Junior RedTail Youth Flying Program.
The Lee A. Archer Junior RedTail Youth Flying Program currently offers programs for students at the Newburgh Armory. These classes, mainly held on Saturdays, allow students to learn more about aviation through classwork and hands-on activities provided by the program.
“We now have a program at the Armory, in Newburgh, which Mr. (William) Kaplan runs. That program has generated a lot of interest for young students from second grade through sixth grade who are interested in aviation as a career but never had an outlet for it,” Fraser said. “I felt like there’s a definitive need to help mentor the next generation of aviators because the dream starts young.”
For the community of Newburgh and surrounding areas, Fraser relays that this resource is available but your mind, drive and dedication must be ready and if they are, you can go anywhere in this field.
“It’s not an easy road,” Fraser said. “It takes work, it takes dedication, and it takes perseverance.”