The Colorado chapter of a nonprofit that works to keep alive the history of the Tuskegee Airmen received a check from a local airport, a move expected to help “enable young people to pursue their …
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Centennial Airport is a general aviation airport, which means it features flight training and medical evacuation, corporate charter, small cargo and recreational flights, among other uses — but commercial airline flights, like those on United or Southwest airlines, for example, are not part of the mix.
It opened May 12, 1968, as Arapahoe County Airport and is owned and operated by the Arapahoe County Public Airport Authority, a governmental body. It is not located in the City of Centennial, which was formed long after the airport in 2001 — the airport changed its name to “Centennial” in 1984.
The airport sits at 7800 S. Peoria St., just south of Arapahoe Road and southeast of the Topgolf entertainment complex, near the middle of Centennial.
It is mostly in unincorporated Arapahoe County but extends south into Douglas County.
Based on Federal Aviation Administration data for fiscal year 2017, Centennial Airport ranked as the third-busiest general aviation airport in the nation, according to General Aviation News.
The Colorado chapter of a nonprofit that works to keep alive the history of the Tuskegee Airmen received a check from a local airport, a move expected to help “enable young people to pursue their dreams,” the chapter's president said.
One of the major objectives of the nonprofit is to “encourage young people and let them know you can be excellent as well,” said Mark Dickerson, president of the Colorado chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc.
The chapter honors the accomplishments and history of the Tuskegee Airmen, Black servicemen of the U.S. Army Air Corps — a precursor to the U.S. Air Force — who trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama during World War II. They constituted the first African American flying unit in the U.S. military.
The chapter — named for Hubert L. “Hooks” Jones in order to commemorate the Denver aviator who died in 1975 — spreads the history of African Americans who participated in air crew, ground crew and operations support training in the Army Air Corps during World War II, according to the chapter's website.
Members of the chapter met with Robert Olislagers, director of Centennial Airport, on Jan. 29 at the airport to receive a financial grant of $6,000.
The money will go toward the chapter's Mile High Flight Program, an effort that has lasted nearly 25 years, according to Dickerson, a retired Air Force colonel. The program provides flight training through an independent company that operates at Centennial Airport.
“If they want to become a commercial pilot, military pilot, they have that option,” John Lamb, a volunteer fundraiser for the chapter, said of the youths who participate in the flight program. Once they get their license, the choice is theirs, Lamb added.
The program opens up the world of aviation for kids as young as 14 — generally, high-schoolers — by taking them to places such as the University of Colorado, Metropolitan State University of Denver, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and aerospace and scientific businesses in the Denver Tech Center area, Lamb said.
Centennial Airport's donation to the Tuskegee Airmen chapter isn't the first grant the airport has given the group, Lamb said. The entities have had “an ongoing relationship” because of the chapter's Mile High Flight Program operations at the airport.
Volunteers at the chapter work with high school counselors around the Front Range to nudge kids toward applying for scholarships from the chapter, Lamb said.
Among the volunteers are Centennial City Councilmember Candace Moon and her husband, Vorry Moon, who also serves as chair of the chapter's board of directors.
As a Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or ROTC, cadet, two Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen were professors of aerospace science, Vorry Moon said of his time in college. They encouraged him to join a chapter, Moon said.
Anyone who served at Tuskegee Army Air Field or in any of the programs stemming from what's known as the "Tuskegee Experience" from 1941-49 is considered to be a Documented Original Tuskegee Airman, according to Tuskegee University. They are colloquially called DOTAs.
For Candace Moon, Centennial Airport's grant “shows what the community can do to uplift its youth,” she said.
“They are able to get opportunities that only come once in a lifetime,” Candace Moon said. “We've seen in the Mile High Flight Program how far children can go.”
Some of the aviators who went through the program in their youth are mentors for young people participating in it now, Dickerson said.
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