This past weekend marked the second annual “Eyes Above the Horizon” airshow at the historic Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama. Hundreds of children from across the United States came to see multiple civil and military aircraft ranging from a single-engine Cessna-150s and Beechcraft Texan T-6 all the way to Multi-Engine corporate jets like the Hawker 800 flown in and by black and minority pilots. It was a grassroots effort organized, planned and executed by four Air Force officers that are determined to change the Air Force and our future.
I didn’t know what to expect when my friend Phi Tran and Kenyatta Deacon Ruffin asked me to volunteer a few weeks ago. I had heard of Eyes Above the Horizon in 2017, after they visited Moody Air Force Base and my friend and I saw their front page news article back then. We had been watching for an opportunity to participate ever since and I was thrilled to even know where the event was taking place, even more elated to help. As I drove into town though, I wondered how kids from the local area- which is economically depressed and only a shadow of the great town it once was- were going to know about this opportunity and participate. The airfield was remote and tucked away, so much so that my GPS took me to the wrong address initially.
But when I finally found 1721 General Benjamin O. Davis Drive, named for the Combat leader and first black general in the Army, and pulled up to the Golden Eagle Aviation FBO, I found a beautiful, modern building almost complete with construction and almost 200 people gathered across the tarmac between the on-field restaurant to the end of the parking ramp – where the Tuskegee Airman Museum is maintained. But I was in for an even bigger surprise when I turned and saw none other than one of the few surviving Tuskegee Airmen, and soon to be centenarian, Col Charles “Chuck” McGee.
Everyone pulled their phones out to grab pictures, including myself, and when I finished snapping a photo of the historic event, I looked around to take in the energy of the people that were attending. I saw groups of young people paired with mentors, most of the mentors being in uniform and excited to share with the children. The group standing near me was the American Airlines contingent that was sponsoring the event, also comprised of mostly minority pilots- including my very good friend Jason Harris, speaker and executive coach on “no fail leadership”.
As I finished my survey, two people caught my eye- an older gentleman walking his grand-daughter behind the aircraft where all the commotion was happening- he was being as respectful as possible while still working his child up to the plane. I was so taken by the scene, I could relate to being in an unfamiliar area with no one to answer questions, so I made a bee line to them to ask if this young lady wanted to have a personal tour guide for all of the amazing airplanes that were out. Her grandfather smiled from ear to ear and agreed instantly to the offer.
She locked hands with mine and we started walking towards the executive jet – the Gulfstream 4- that was at the far end of the ramp. Her imagination was unleashed as she walked up the stairs and into the cabin, the beautiful leather and mahogany service area sparkling in the sun- something that most people only see in movies (including myself). She skipped cheerfully from aircraft to aircraft, I watched as she wondered about the possibilities, asked about driving them, curious about how these beasts flew. She walked right up to everyone asking if they were the pilots of the aircraft and if they loved what they did. It was so lovely to live vicariously through her discover of everything that was around us.
I began to wonder at how many times this event could happen, where targetted populations are exposed to possibilities like these- to see themselves one day flying these jets. I thought about the impact it was having on each of these children, if they saw all of the 30 volunteers from all branches of the aviation business out to support them as themselves one day. And I wondered how much this one moment meant to my little companion and if it would have a positive impact on any part of her life. It’s my hope that it does.
The story doesn’t end here, however, I plan to fly a sortie back to Tuskegee soon and reunite with this little girl and her loving grandfather. She asked for a ride one day and if I can make it happen, I absolutely will. Who knows what she will become one day.
If you have the opportunity to support this great organization I highly recommend it. Its a great way to #bethechange and #sharethedream