MUKILTEO —When the US Navy launched a program last year to increase pilot diversity, it was limited to members of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
But the head of a Mukilteo flying club for teenagers wanted the Navy to do better and open it up to all high schoolers.
Jesse D Hayes IV, founder of the Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Club, got his wish this spring and more: a club member secured a spot in the elite program.
The Navy Summer Flight Academy is now open to all 11th and 12th graders, not just Navy and Marine Corps Junior ROTC members.
The program allows students to earn their private pilot license and five college credits.
Zander Hamilton, a member of the Mukilteo Club since 2018, is one of 20 11th and 12th graders across the country who have been selected to participate in the program.
This year’s intensive eight-week session will be held at Delaware State University.
Red-tailed Hawks introduce underserved youth — blacks, women, and other people of color — to careers in aviation, science, and aerospace.
“The Naval Air Force’s diversity and inclusion commander has been a supporter of the Red-Tailed Hawks and the Black Pilots of America,” said Hayes, an Air Force veteran and Boeing engineer who has founded the Mukilteo club in 2013 to reach a wider group. children.
“Last year they only selected kids in the Junior ROTC,” Hayes said. “I called the commander and said, ‘What would it take to open this up for Red-tailed Hawks?'”
Hayes was surprised by the response.
“He was crazy open to the idea and then said – send me a name,” Hayes said. “Zander was at the top of the list.”
Commander Chris “Frozone” Williams, Navy fighter pilot and director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said the scholarship program aims to expose “outstanding minority students to a journey of career that currently lacks diversity”.
“Zander Hamilton has what it takes to be a leader in aviation, and the Navy is honored to play a part in his personal and professional journey,” Williams said.
About 14% of the country’s population identified as black in 2019, according to the Pew Research Center. The percentage of black pilots in the military is believed to be in the single digits. in many cases less than 2%. In the private sector, only 3.4% of commercial pilots in the United States are black, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Students will receive a minimum of 32 hours of classroom instruction and 49 hours of flight training, including 17 hours of solo flight.
The program, worth about $24,000 per person, is free to students, Williams said.
Hamilton moved to the Pacific Northwest from Tennessee with his family in 2018 and learned about red-tailed hawks through a friend.
“They give young airmen, especially those from marginalized groups,” a chance “to get a feel for aviation,” said Hamilton, 17.
He has completed the club’s flying program, which provides a head start in obtaining a private pilot’s license, he said.
Now he sees aviation as a possible career.
Hamilton will be a senior this fall at Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish.
“It’s a very good decision,” said Hamilton of the Navy program.
“Aviation is a lot of white men,” Hamilton said. “It opens it up to more people and gives everyone a better chance.”
Hamilton flew Cessna 152 and Cessna 172 single-engine aircraft from Paine Field in Everett, Boeing Field in Seattle, and Tacoma Narrows Airport. He hasn’t flown alone yet.
This year’s eight-week summer flight academy runs from June 12 to August 5.
“My school ends on June 10 and I will be in Delaware on June 12,” Hamilton said.
Hayes is exuberant.
“We are very excited about this opportunity,” said Hayes. “We hope he does well so he can pave the way for others.”