Black Pilot Association Opens Flight Training Academy

By Michelle Corbet, Memphis Business Journal
Courtesy of Olive Branch Airport

A new flight academy has opened at the Olive Branch Airport with a goal of meeting the pilot shortage and adding diversity to the industry – by training 50 African-American pilots per year for the next five years.

The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) open[ed] the Lieutenant Colonel Luke Weathers Jr. Flight Academy [June 20] with plans 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.

“One of the challenges in the Memphis area, there are a lot of silos of excellence,” said Capt. Albert Glenn, the academy director and a FedEx 777 pilot. “Everyone does a great job, but they are by themselves.”

The organizations that have partnered on the new flight academy have been working toward the same goal for more than 20 years – to diversify the aviation industry.

“It’s not ‘we have a program’ or ‘they have a program,’” Glenn said. “We all work together, and I hope folks will see that and talk about the work all the organizations are doing rather than just one.”

The academy is an extension of OBAP’s Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academy, which provides summer programming for students interested in aviation, and OBAP’s partnership with the East High School T-Stem Academy, in which students can get their private pilot’s license and instrumentation before they graduate.

“I believe a collective of people, regardless of race, when all minds come together, we can be at our best,” said Micah Clark, OBAP’s third female flight instructor and assistant academy director. “We strive for excellence with this nonprofit, and the training we provide will improve a student’s life wherever they go.”

Capt. Glenn is working to solve the workforce shortages in the aviation industry by making it more diverse.

“The U.S. is becoming more diverse, and we have to change the way we look for and develop the workforce,” Glenn said. “If we can expose kids who normally don’t become pilots, by making this program available to the school system, we can show them a pathway to the future, and how we can fuel those jobs.”

Now that OBAP has its own facility, it plans to expand its pilot training curriculum to other local high schools.

The building and hangar became available when another local flight school, Downtown Aviation, moved to the General Dewitt Spain Airport in Downtown Memphis.

The academy is named in honor of the late Weathers, a native Memphian who became a famed member of the Tuskegee Airmen. Upon his return from service, he was the first African-American to be given a key to the City of Memphis, in 1945.

Weathers would go on to also become the first African-American air traffic specialist. He died in 2011 and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

The academy will offer FAR 141 and 61 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.

Community partners who will share in the value of the new flight academy include Shelby County Schools, Air Venture Flight Center, CTI Professional Flight Training, Tuskegee Airmen Inc., the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees, Memphis Blackhawks, Tuskegee Next and Taste of Aviation.