September 8, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Tateyna Jones has a fear of heights. So even though her first piloting experience was on the ground in a flight simulator, she still got a major rush from the experience.

“They had us fly through a storm and the simulator started shaking, she says. “It was intense.”

Jones’ once-in-a-lifetime adventure came thanks to the 3-year-old flight simulator program coordinated by the area chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Area youth can now experience the sensation of piloting an aircraft in an authentic flight simulator at Offutt Air Force Base that provides realistic graphics—and motion—way beyond the scope of any video game. Other students in the program get the opportunity to take a ride in an actual aircraft through the Young Eagles program based at Millard Airport.

The larger mission of these programs is to promote aviation and education, says Bob Rose, president of the Alfonza W. Davis Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen in Omaha, one of 50 chapters nationwide named in honor of the groundbreaking African-American members of the Army Air Corps during World War II.

“Our national and local mission is to perpetuate the legacy of the TuskegeeAirmen, and we do that through youth,” Rose says.

“We use aviation as a hook to get kids interested in education, and we try to impress upon them that, just as the Tuskegee Airmen succeeded, they can succeed, too, if they’re properly prepared and if they have the right attitude.”

The flight simulator program draws students ages 12 through 18 from schools and youth organizations year-round (the flying program runs April through October). Groups of nine young people, with two adult escorts, are broken into subgroups to give each student 45 minutes in the flight simulator and roughly 15 minutes of stick time. The rest of the 3½ hour base visit includes a control tower tour, an observation of K-9 training (when possible), and classroom-based briefings on aviation principles and military topics like World War II and, of course, the Tuskegee Airmen.

The flying program is organized with members of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s chapter based out of Millard Airport, and students get a certificate of completion. They also have their flight time entered into a permanent online log book.

Because participants are entering the grounds of a military base for the Flight Simulator Program, Rose’s group must collaborate with several layers of base personnel.

The program’s organizers enjoy a unique relationship with the Offutt hierarchy. The Wing Commander supports the chapter and has given his blessings to this program. In addition, he has assigned a liaison officer as a go-between and as the eyes and ears for his office and the chapter, Rose says.

“With the assistance of the liaison officer and the base, we are able to execute this program,” Rose says. “It’s very generous. And it’s unique in that as far as I am aware, it’s the only program of this nature in the country, at least to this extent.”

Jones, 17, says she has never experienced anything close to her flight in a state-of-the-art flight simulator.

“They closed the door and I really felt that I was in the air,” Jones says. “When you’re looking out a regular airplane window, you don’t see as much, but when you’re in the flight simulator you see everything; you’re flying it.”

Jones says she was quick to sign up when the opportunity arose and thinks the program could benefit any student.

“It just sounded really cool and interesting, and I wanted to learn about the Tuskegee Airmen,” says Jones, the daughter of a retired Marine. “You really learn a lot and I’d recommend it to other students, especially people who going into the military or going into a career field related to flying.”

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