There's a growing effort to make the aviation industry more diverse. One group is trying to reach young people years before they apply to college and show them that they, too, can someday sit in the captain's seat.
“It’s an adjustable pitch propeller, as you can see, look at the holes,” 14-year-old Javari Bogan said with authority while checking out aircraft during a recent tour of Auburn Municipal Airport.
He seems to know everything about airplanes.
“Some variants are longer, some variants are shorter,” he said while peering up an aircraft wing.
How did he learn all this? Some people are born with an innate, natural curiosity, but Bogan also receives guidance from a group of professionals who know what it's like to be that kid who set his sights on something big.
“I want to be a pilot for Alaska or Delta,” Bogan said, before adding that he would also consider a career in the Air Force.
The 8th grader is among dozens of young people who are part of the Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Club.
Club organizers, many of whom are pilots or engineers, hold monthly meetings in all across Western
Washington to teach kids about aviation and science. They might also do a demonstration at 10,000 feet when the weather is nice.
“Oh my goodness we have grown tremendously,” said Jesse D. Hayes IV, who formed the Red-Tailed Hawks in 2013 to reach young minorities whose dreams might not include a Dreamliner.
Hayes remembers what it was like when learned to fly in the Air Force decades ago.
“There were no black flight commanders, no black commanders of any sort at that base, there was nobody that was there to support me or advocate for me, so it felt very, very lonely,” Hayes said.
Official numbers are hard to find, but this group estimates the percentage of African-American pilots in commercial aviation is in the low single digits.
“I still remember my first meeting with an African-American pilot, I still remember looking out the terminal windows, and I waved at the pilot, and he waved back, it was an amazing experience for me,” said Bogan.
16-year-old Samantha Carter is already mapping out her flight path.
“I want to fly a 787 at least once, that would be an adventure,” said the high school junior, who hopes to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
The pilots and engineers who volunteer for the Red-Tailed Hawks have taught her something much more important than technical details.
“It's not impossible to become one of them,” Carter said.
Some of the young people who came up through the program have gone on to aerospace careers. If recent attendance is any indication, there are plenty more waiting in the wings.
Red-Tailed Hawks has grown to include nearly 100 kids on their membership roster.