In 1968, the city of Richmond, Calif., created a junior high school aviation program—Learning Through Aviation—for 25 13-year-old African-American inner city youths with behavioral problems, low grades, poor attendance, low self-esteem, truancy, and suspensions from school. The course included aviation-related courses, industry field trips, and flight training; students showed a marked improvement in all categories.
East Bay Aviators, a nonprofit organization based at Hayward Executive Airport in California, is hoping to replicate the Richmond program with five local youths. The organization is a subsidiary of Motivation & Learning Through Aviation (MALTA), established in 2007 by Ben Henderson, a pilot and mechanic who has been in aviation for more than 35 years.
“East Bay Aviators was created to foster an interest in aviation for youths,” said Henderson. “It was inspired by the slogan ‘I believe I can Fly,’ first coined by the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II.”
Henderson joined the U.S. Air Force when he was 17, and became an aircraft mechanic. “I spent 10 years on active duty, then the reserves,” he said. “I worked for United Airlines for 29 years, and then retired. I then worked for the FAA as an aviation safety inspector and retired again.”
That’s when Henderson set up East Bay Aviators. “I was interested in kids who wanted to learn how to fly, but especially those at risk,” he said. “Right now, we have one Cessna 150, two volunteer flight instructors, a ground instructor, a 400 square-foot building, and a hangar for the aircraft.”
Despite being on a fixed income, Henderson said he is going into his own pocket to keep the program going. One student has already earned his private pilot certificate thanks to East Bay Aviators, and the group is currently working with a second student. East Bay Aviators is also trying to raise money to help offer flight training to five students.