ATLANTA (AP) — As the U.S. military's first black aviators, the Tuskegee Airmen had a double challenge: flying in the dangerous skies during World War II, and fighting a war against prejudice waged by allies both at home and overseas.
Now some of the airmen's members have undertaken another mission: helping high school students rise above obstacles in their pursuit of aviation careers through a program that also aims to ensure the survival of the Tuskegee legacy.
Tuskegee Airmen Val Archer, 84, and Wilbur Mason, 88, met with students recently for the inaugural weeklong class of the Tuskegee Airmen Aviation Career Training program at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Archer, who was an airplane mechanic and later an aircraft instrument specialist, says he considers it his duty to try to instill confidence in young aviators to help them obtain their goals.
"We have a responsibility for them," he said. "We've been aware of it for many years, but it has become increasingly more important."
The course, which ended Friday, took place in a training center owned by Delta Airlines, which has its hub at Hartsfield-Jackson. Delta pilots were on hand to guide the students, who learned the science of flight and practiced flying on flight simulators. The program was conceived by Andrew Fellers, a 37-year-old Delta pilot who also is president of the Atlanta chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., a support group for the airmen with chapters throughout the United States.
Fellers acknowledged that there are other aviation programs aimed at young people in the U.S. But he felt it was important to educate students about the history of the airmen, who became military pilots and crewmen despite deep racial prejudice from some who believed that African-Americans did not have sufficient skills.