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Tuskegee Airmen Foster Dream of Flying

South County Secondary School senior Colin Banks is rare for many reasons--at age 17 he has flown solo from Maryland to Richmond, Va., loves World War II planes, and is one of very few young black pilots. His goal is to join the Air Force Academy and become a fighter pilot, at a time when just 270, or 1.9 percent, of the Air Force's 14,130 pilots are black. Banks is one week from obtaining his private pilot's license, having sacrificed many weekends over the past year to drive 45 minutes to the airfield for lessons. He got his inspiration from Air Force Day at the National Air and Space Museum, which had a panel on the Tuskegee Airmen and a volunteer encouraged him to join Tuskegee's Youth in Aviation program. The program visits schools and offers field trips and summer camps, but only a handful show interest in becoming pilots due to the expense--a private pilot's license can cost thousands of dollars in training and a college education based on aviation can cost as much as $100,000. "Young black men aren't limited to basketball or being a rapper," he says. "Basketball is a game. Flying is a career choice." His mother describes the night before his orientation flight, when he was so excited he could not sleep. Another time he threw up, but he says it was from excitement--he has stopped eating before flights just to be safe.

December 9, 2009

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