Four student pilots, selected and trained as part of a student scholar program of the Tuskegee Airmen, did their solo flights at Centennial Airport in recent weeks. In the photos are (ABOVE) Mentor Maurice Newton with student pilot Celeste Minu, (BELOW) Kamie Bradley and (BOTTOM) Alexandra (Alex) Flores. Bendie Min is not pictured. Courtesy photos
BY JAN WONDRA
Before they were even licensed to drive a car, four exceptional students recently made their first solo flights at Centennial Airport.
“We’re proud of every single one of our Mile High Flight program students, especially those selected for Phase Two flight training,” said Eric Mosley, a pilot with United Airlines, who began the student pilot program, sponsored in association with the local chapter of Tuskegee Airmen. “They have shown the discipline and resolve to really accomplish something.”
The program that gave them wings, not just into the airspace above Centennial, but to rise above personal challenges as well, is a 20-year-old student pilot training program. It is supported and sponsored by a group organized by Mosley, and his pilot father, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, who died in May. This all-black squadron of black World War II pilots played a key role in integrating the armed forces, showing skill and courage that earned them reknown as a fighting force.
The volunteer organization that put the four students, Kamie Bradley, Celeste Minu, Bendie Min and Alexandra (Alex) Flores, into the pilot’s seat, is known as the Mile High Flight Crew. This group of 17 professional pilots dedicates volunteer time and resources to help young people earn success in the aviation field. The crew is led by Capt. Eric Mosley of United Airlines and First Officer Darryl Searuggs of Federal Express.
“We began it primarily for African American students, but race, creed, color isn’t necessarily the only factor,” said Mosley, who says hundreds of students have completed the Phase One program, 30 to 60 students per year. “The flight program has two phases. The first is a field trip intensive phase that runs October to May. We visit air and space aviation venues like the United Airlines Flight Training Center and take them up on a glider ride. We make determinations about which students are most serious about learning how to fly.”
Phase Two of the program involves a $5,000-6,000 scholarship to cover the cost of flight training conducted at the Aspen Flying Club at Centennial Airport. This year, the group was able to offer four scholarships, more than usual, which were made possible with a matching grant from the Daniels Fund, arranged by Greenwood City Councilman Jerry Presley.
Students selected for the program are chosen for their remarkable student achievements, coming from modest circumstances while dealing with tough circumstances. Many of them come from families where higher education has not been an option.
“Some of them come from dire circumstances, including being homeless,” said Mosley. “When you see what they have overcome and with such amazing, positive attitudes, it’s remarkable.”
Bradley, with the Mile High Flight program for one year, will be a senior at East High School in Denver. She describes her tour of the United States Air Force Academy, arranged by the MHFC, as being a turning point in her life. At that very time, she was maintaining a 3.3 GPA, but was faced with several difficult personal challenges.
Meeting with and listening to the cadets “gave me hope for the future and a better vision of what was possible.” Bradley plans to get a private pilot’s certificate and instrument rating before leaving high school. She is applying for aviation scholarships and wants to attend an aviation-oriented college, to pursue a career as an airline pilot.
Minu, in the Mile High Flight program since 2012, will be a junior at Lakewood High School. She takes honors and Advanced Placement courses and has a 4.0 GPA. She is interested in applying to aeronautical-oriented colleges, and wants to be a forensic scientist or psychologist and fly planes recreationally. She and her family moved to the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo when she was 2 years old.
Minu has been in the Mile High Flight program since 2000. A senior at Lakewood High School, he has a 4.3 GPA and received the President’s Award for Educational Excellence from the U.S. Department of Education and a letter from President Obama. He attended the American Legion’s Colorado Boys State where he was elected as a state senator. Minu wants to attend college at the Air Force Academy to major in aeronautical engineering or astronautical engineering. His career goal is to become a pilot in the United States Air Force and become an astronaut. From an immigrant family, he moved to the United States from The Democratic Republic of the Congo at the age of 4.
Flores has been with the Mile High Flight program since 2013. She will be a senior at the Denver School of Science and Technology at Green Valley Ranch and has a 3.7 GPA. She is actively engaged in community activities and sports, and plans to earn a private pilot’s certificate before graduating from high school. Her goal is to go to a college that has a strong aviation program where she can build flight hours and eventually become an airline pilot.
Phase Two of the often multi-year program introduces students to actual flight training, each mentored by a member of the Mile High Flight crew. This year’s flight program mentors included John Frazier, a pilot with Federal Express, and Kelly Akulshin, a pilot for a major airline. Maurice Newton, a pilot with Federal Express and former Air Force pilot, is a graduate of the Air Force Academy. Andrea Menjura is a pilot with Frontier Airlines and happens to be a 2004 MHF Phase Two solo graduate who chose to make flying her career after being taught to fly by this group of dedicated volunteers.
“When they go on to make aviation their careers, as at least three of our students have, then we have truly changed lives,” Mosley said.
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