JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md., –
“Only 2 percent of Air Force pilots are black. I didn’t meet a black pilot in the Air Force until I was in college and that same pilot encouraged me to fly when I wouldn’t have otherwise. That is why representation is paramount in inspiring young dreamers to take on a career in aviation,” said Maj. Saj El-Amin, a 99th Airlift Squadron pilot and coordinator for the heritage flight. “We wanted to accomplish great training with the crew, celebrate Black history along our flightpath through American history and show representation in an underrepresented career field.”
El-Amin and his team of 15 SAM Fox Airmen flew the wing’s first-ever African-American Heritage Flight for a three-day training mission, Feb. 19 – 21. The crew complement consisted of a variety of flying and support units within the 89th Airlift Wing to include the 99th and 1st Airlift Squadrons.
The flight’s purpose was to celebrate Black history in aviation and the Air Force by flying a mission with an all-black crew.
El-Amin noted the heritage flight was something they always wanted to do, but have not been able to until recently.
“We’ve never had Black Airmen in all of the required crew positions at the same time to conduct this type of celebration,” he said. “This year we did, so we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity.”
During the flight, several of the crew remarked on the range of emotions and expressions they felt throughout the heritage flight, and how they didn’t want the moment to end.
“In my 17 years, until now, I’ve never been in an all African-American aircrew. It felt humbling, exciting and natural to be around such high-speed individuals on the aircrew,” said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Bailey, a 99th AS flight attendant. “Being around so much experience shows you that you can always strive for more.”
From the pilots.
“It was incredible. I’m thankful our entire leadership team gave their full support. When you’re the first of anything, you don’t quite know what to expect or how it will be perceived. But that comes with the territory of making history,” El-Amin said. “From the moment we took off and our wheels left the grounds of [Joint Base Andrews], we knew we had just made history.”
The trip’s first day included a stop at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. where they met four other African-American aircrews from various wings/bases. The five aircrews were split into enlisted and officer elements to join cross talks about experiences like overcoming adversity, operating in an environment where you’re the ‘only one’ in the room and aircrew techniques and procedures.
The gathering of more than 70 African-American aircrew members then met on the flight line for a group photo alongside their Tuskegee Airmen predecessors, celebrating the 80-year legacy of America’s first Black pilots. The first day concluded with each aircrew giving tours of their airframes before departing.