ALEXANDRIA, Va. — It is a cool Saturday afternoon and high schooler Naomi Hill peers through her computer monitor at the runway below.
“I’m looking at my altitude,” she explained. “We are learning how to get from one airport to another without being able to see.“
Twice a month Naomi and a group of other kids meet at the Kappa Alpha Psi-alumni building in Alexandria, Virginia and learn to fly.
“A lot of our program are designed for African American men or young males, but at our chapter we do programs that are coed,” Kappa Alpha Psi alumni president Dr. Kenneth Taylor said.
A few years back, the chapter recognized a career path with a significant racial disparity: aviation.
In the last census the Federal Government reported only roughly 2% of commercial pilots in the United States were black.
“In the class we incorporate black history, but also remind them that they are making history as well,” Dr. Taylor said.
“If I’d been exposed to something like that when I was ten or eleven years old, maybe I’d be a pilot.”
The brothers Kappa Alpha Psi wanted to do something about it. So they built an aviation program.
A coed beginner course on flight for middle school to high school students.
With the help of grant money from the Northern Virginia Urban League they were able to get it off the ground.
They continue to fund the program through donations and grants.
In the program the kids learn the basics of flight taught by former pilots like naval aviator Rear Admiral A.J. Johnson.
“We talk about flight, do the table talk then we go to the flight room, and they actually do what they just learned,” Rear Admiral Johnson said.
That is the fun part. With help of grant money Kappa Alpha Psi bought five flight simulators. The students practice taking off, navigating, and landing- all from their seats in Alexandria.
Then at the end of the course, they do something special: they get behind the wheel of a real plane. The culmination of the class is taking controls of a plane and flying for the first time.
“It’s not as scary as you think it’d be,” Naomi Hill said. “It’s you flying a plane. I am literally controlling it in the air. It’s great.”
To Naomi Hill the program has opened the possibilities of a flying future.
“It’s another way to see the world,” she smiled and looked back at her flight simulation screen.