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"Black pilot aims to solidify minorities' legacy in aviation"



Sunday, June 23, 2002

Black pilot aims to solidify minorities' legacy in aviation
Man heads group that promotes opportunities to youths through camps,
training, scholarships.
By Larry Muhammad
The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal


LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- As a Marine Corps captain, Houston Mills was an F-18
fighter pilot.

He directed air strikes during the Persian Gulf War and later flew patrol
missions enforcing the no-fly zone over southern Iraq.

Now he's board chairman of the Maryland-based Organization of Black Airline
Pilots, spearheading a different mission: diversity in the field of
aviation.

"We want our legacy to be a minority presence in commercial aviation," said
Mills, an assistant chief pilot at UPS in Louisville. "Most of the Tuskegee
Airmen weren't offered opportunities in commercial airlines when they came
back from World War II. Our goal is to close that gap so that the world of
aviation looks like the world we live in every day."

Of the 136,000 airline pilots and navigators employed in America, about
1,000 are black, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1963,
a major passenger airline -- Continental -- hired a black pilot. There were
80 of them flying commercial airliners when the organization of black pilots
began in 1976.

Since then, the pilots group has weighed in at congressional hearings on
airline industry employment and has helped create a permanent historical
exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum called "Black Wings: African
American Pioneer Aviators."

The group has 2,500 members nationwide, including affiliate members in
education, air-traffic control and airport management.

But its main recruitment tactic is promoting aviation among youths.

The group has given more than $500,000 in college scholarships and operates
13 camps for grade-school pupils around the country. There's one at Shawnee
High School, Jefferson County Public Schools' aviation magnet. Each year,
the camps give about 400 youngsters a behind-the-scenes look at the
profession.

Under the program, scores of students have visited the control tower at
Louisville International Airport, used high-tech flight simulators and
visited the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, as well as the
National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla. -- all expenses paid.

The group also has worked with the YMCA Black Achievers program, which
motivates youngsters to pursue careers in nine vocation clusters.

This year, students assembled a 450-piece, radio-controlled, scale-model
prop plane that reaches speeds of 60 mph.

"We really emphasize a lot about our past," Mills said. "We want kids to
know that the opportunities before us now are a result of people making a
lot of sacrifices."

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