Lindsey Williams at a podium
Lindsey Williams, the Michigan district director for fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, speaks at a news conference Friday at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Behind him is Brandon Jones, a pilot for the Michigan National Guard, who participated in an aviation program through the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum when he was a child. (Photo by Quinn Banks)

As a child, Brandon Jones would look at the sky outside his home on Detroit’s west side and see Northwest Airlines planes flying overhead. 

Today, the 36-year-old knows firsthand what it’s like to fly a commercial airplane as a pilot for United Airlines and an instructor pilot for the Michigan National Guard. Jones credits his interest in becoming a pilot to the Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academy, a 5-day camp for middle school and high school students organized by the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum. 

The museum, which hosts various programs and classes for children, teens and young adults, will continue to provide opportunities for those interested in aviation thanks to a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

The Tuskegee Airmen National Museum received $500,000 from the agency to train high school students in Detroit and beyond to become airline pilots, drone pilots and aerospace engineers, the institution announced Friday during a news conference at its headquarters inside the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. 

The grant award is part of $10 million the FAA is giving to 23 schools nationwide to help attract and train students for careers as pilots and aviation maintenance technicians.

The Tuskegee museum was the only site in Michigan to receive the award.

“You don’t have to be a math wizard,” said museum president Brain Smith about joining the program. “You don’t have to be really smart. A C average…will get you with some diligence and the ability to concentrate. Those are the most important things; being diligent, particular about what you’re doing and being able to concentrate and focus and then respectful of your elders. And that’ll take you far in life. Those are the kinds of people we’re looking for.” 

The museum is currently training 18 students in its program, with the next class beginning May 18. Thirty slots are available for the year-round program and is open for teens around metro Detroit. 

Smith said when students are 14 years old, instructors teach them how to fly a glider, which is an aircraft that has no engine. They can then transition to learning about powered aircraft and obtain a private pilot license by the time they’re 16. Students ages 16 and older can also become eligible to obtain a drone certificate. 

People can learn more about the program at or by calling (313) 843-8849. 

Pilot program pays tribute to Tuskegee Airmen 

In addition to Smith and other representatives from the museum, community leaders like Detroit NAACP President Rev. Wendell Anthony attended Friday’s announcement. 

Anthony talked about the experience of late Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, who was a Tuskegee Airmen. While standing in a room full of artifacts from the World War II pilots, Anthony said Young and other soldiers often had to go through psychological tests and were held to a higher standard than white soldiers. 

“This program stands on the back of all of those men, women, flyers, mechanics, engineers; everybody who went into Red Tails, everybody who protected flights and never lost one,” he said. “We thank God for them, even though they had to go through testing, psychological testing to exclude them, rather than to include them.” 

FAA Deputy Regional Administrator Sean Doyle said the agency is dedicated to supporting young people and helping them enter the aviation industry. 

“We look forward to watching these students grow and develop their skills as they honor the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen,” he said. “Aviation is growing and it has the ability to bring everyone to new heights, to take best advantage of their skills and do things that are really amazing. And programs like this are at the forefront of that.” 

Jones later talked about his experience with the ACE program when he attended back in 2000. He said the instructors pushed his class to accomplish their goals and be the best they could be. Now, he’s looking forward to teaching the next generation. 

“We (his class) still check with each other and we still have that competitive nature and that’s just something that I’m looking forward to continuing, bringing more youth, showing them that if you can fly an airplane… the world is in your hands.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *