By the time he graduates high school in May, Christopher Gray, 17, should already have his private pilot’s license. Fascinated by planes and flying his whole life, Gray is fulfilling his dream with the help of Kansas City’s Red Tail Academy, a relatively new Kansas City-based non-profit.
Founded by three Black pilots, the mission of Red Tail Academy is to “create opportunities to expose, educate and mentor underrepresented youth, ages 12-18, to the (ages 12-18) in the aviation field.”
With the help of Red Tail Acadamy Gray, and other Kansas City youth, spent their summer learning to fly. They each logged flight training hours with an instructor in the Red Tail Academy airplane. They also spent hours in “ground school,” learning more about the theory of flight, navigation, weather and the information needed to pass the required Federal Aviation Administration pilot licensing test.
Kerry Gooch, one of the founders of Red Tail Academy, says the program is also designed to help build the participants’ confidence and to instill in them an “anything is possible” attitude. A twenty-something and relatively new pilot, Gooch credits being around and mentored by other Black pilots with providing him the motivation and tenacity needed to achieve his goal of obtaining his pilot’s license.
In part, that’s why he joined with Jeff Bowen, a captain with Delta airlines, and David Toliver, a seasoned pilot and private plane owner, to form Red Tail Academy. The three are passionate about helping young students overcome the many barriers into the world of aviation, including lack of access, cultural barriers and the lack of funds.
Lack of funds, often one of the biggest barriers for African-American youth, is an area where Red Tail Academy really shines. It can easily cost $10,000 to complete the training necessary to obtain a private pilot’s license. So far, the group has been able to cut that cost in half, but hope to be able to lower the price even more.
Since they’re a non-profit, their goal isn’t to make a profit and they’ve helped cut costs to the students by purchasing their own trainer aircraft that students can use.
“To rent an airplane and an instructor can easily cost $200 per hour,” says Gooch. With a minimum 40 hours of flight instruction required to get your license plus the cost of ground school, it’s easy to see how the dollars can add up and prove to be a barrier for students.
Gooch says, as a non-profit, their goal is to raise funds to help lower the costs for students even further and to be able to provide scholarships to some interested students. While they are excited to bring more students in, what they also need are volunteers to get involved with and help teach the students, and, of course, donations. To get involved or donate, visit RedTailAcademy.org.