Young Zaire Horton knows the Tuskegee Airmen aren’t the only aviators connected to HBCUs, and he’s flying around the country to learn more. Atiya Jordan shares more in Black Enterprise.
Sixteen-year-old Zaire Horton is using his private glider pilot license to discover the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained about the Black history of aviation.
“The seven states that my instructor and I have selected for my tour all house a historically Black university that played an instrumental role in the history of aviation,” Horton said.
Horton’s solo trip began in Chicago, and he has reportedly made his first stop in Xenia, Ohio, to visit Wilberforce University,the nation’s first private HBCU. This groundbreaking university was among other Black-owned institutions during the 1940s that fought vigorously for Black soldiers to pick up arms and fight.
By late 1939, Congress passed the Civilian Pilot Training Act, which launched a budget of $4 million to create hundreds of flight training facilities to be placed at colleges throughout the country. Although discrimination continued to exclude Blacks from these same initiatives, HBCUs remained vigilant in their efforts to integrate a 1940s program that trained civilian pilots, including Wilberforce University.
By age 14, Horton was learning how to fly a motor glider. He was able to soar the skies solo by 15 years old. When he turned 16, he obtained his glider pilot’s license. By 17, Horton expects to receive his private pilot and aeromechanics license before graduating from high school.
As a freshman, the teen pilot started taking classes at the College Preparation and Placement Program at Dunbar Vocational Career Academy in Chicago, CBS News reported. At first, he was a bit reluctant, but it wasn’t until his third weekend of the class, when his instructor, Umberto Ricco, took him flying, that his feelings changed.
“In Chicago, you don’t really hear too much about people flying just like me, I didn’t know,” Horton said.
Now, this indescribable feeling he gets when he flies is fueling his dreams of becoming a cargo or commercial pilot. And he wants to set an example for other teens.
“I want to encourage teens who would be interested to learn to fly without encountering some of the socio-economic barriers typically associated with careers in aviation.”Flying is another way to open doors, and I want to inspire them to experience that,” Horton said, according to WDTN.