Pilots Speak at Performing Stars’ ‘Red Tails’ Showing

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Top panel: Tuskegee Heirs comic strip (From aminoapps.com). Top roll from left: Marcus Williams, Greg Burnham, Courtland Savage, Col. Yvonne Darlene Cagle, Mikosha Phoenix, Jordan Calhoun. Bottom row from left: Colin Henry, Cpt. Ray Burkett, Lt. Col. Jason Harris, Captain Tara Wright, First Officer Tarah Ernest (Photo by Godfrey Lee).

Nine pilots and two animators spoke at the Feb. 17 Performing Stars’ “Red Tails” showing at the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco.

They shared how aviation became a positive career choice for them to about 100 youths attending the event. They were also examples of how aviation can become a viable career choice for Black people and women of color.

Marin County resident Jordan Calhoun flew his first solo in an airplane at 16-years-old. He later graduated from University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Marketing, and now works as an assistant vice president in marketing for Jackson Square Aviation, which leases commercial aircrafts.

Courtland Savage, a North Carolina native, currently flies for United Express. Savage served for the Air Force Reserves as a crew chief on the Boeing C-17 Globe Master III., while attending Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. Savage founded Fly for the Culture, a non-profit organization that helps increase diversity within the aviation industry, and exposes disadvantaged and minority youth to aviation as a career option.

Colin Henry grew up in Mill Valley, graduated from the College of Marin, and currently flies a Gulfstream G650 jet for Nike. He is a flight instructor and air tour pilot, and a member of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals.

Mikosha Phoenix is an air traffic controller in Bismarck, N.D., and the public affairs chairperson of the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees. Phoenix was born and raised outside of Houston, TX and graduated from the University of Texas at Tyler with a degree in Journalism.

Tarah Ernest, first officer and Pilot Talent Acquisitions personnel for Republic Airways, is responsible for the safe operation of Republic’s aircrafts. Ernest, as a Haitian-American female pilot, understands the obstacles that confront minorities pursuing careers in aviation. She mentors those aspiring to be pilots and is involved with the Sisters of the Skies and Women in Aviation.

Capt. Tara Wright, from Oakland, is the first female African American pilot for U.S. Airways, and in 2017, became a captain for Alaska Airlines. She also owns and operates an air charter company. Wright says that aviation is a viable career option for women of color, and said “It is important to demonstrate that there are people like me who do this job.”

Lt. Col. Jason Harris, who grew up in East Oakland, has lead an accomplished military career and became a decorated Air Force pilot, and a motivational speaker, consultant and certified character coach who values dedication, service and excellence. Harris also recognizes the value of empowerment and an environment of trust where talented people can grow and flourish.

Capt. Ray Burkett of American Airlines studied Aeronautical Science at Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University. Burkett grew up in Detroit, MI, and had no mentors, but still loves his choice of becoming a pilot.

Col. Yvonne Darlene Cagle, from Novato, received her doctor of medicine degree from the University of Washington in 1985, and retired from the United States Air Force in 2008. She is a member of NASA’s Astronaut Class of 1996, and currently works as a consultant for space telemedicine at the Johnson Space Center, studying the health of astronauts.

Cagle never flew on a space mission, and in 2018 was considered a “NASA Management Astronaut” in the Ames Research Center in California, which means that she is employed at NASA but is no longer eligible for spaceflight assignments.

Writer Greg Burnham, and artist Marcus Williams are the co-creators of the “Tuskegee Heirs,” a comic series about five young pilots living in a futuristic world where humans are banned from becoming pilots. They become trained to defeat the self-aware war machines fixated to destroy civilization and are “thrust into the middle of a war for humanities’ right to exist.”

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