Thursday, April 22, 2010

Black Pilots of Homebuilt Aircraft

Ultralight Airmanship is not just for "crazy whiteboys." There have been Black ultralight aviators since the earliest days of the homebuilt aircraft craze. Along with the fascinating stores of these aviators come stories of the equally fascinatting aircraft they flew. Examinin the lives of these individuals can give insight into the motivation behind their flying machines.

A particular homebuilt aircraft aviator that comes to my mind is a man by the name of Lewis Jackson. Jackson was also a school teacher that taught 8th graders in a small school. His interest in aircraft was cultivated as a child. Eventually, Jackson became a pilot, a barnstormer, and later a flight instructor. Jackson was the trainer of many of the Tuskeegee airman.

After training pilots at Tuskeege, Jackson began building and designing aircraft. Jackson's main desire as a airplane builder was to create an airplane that every household could own. He set out to accomplish this task by designing an airplane that was "roadable." He had many different airplane designs that had folding wings. When the wings folded, the airplane could drive on the road as a car. He began test flying his designs in the 1950's and continued into the 70's.

Dr. Jackson continued to test these planes for the remainder of his life. He passed away in 1994 after a long life of promoting roadable aircraft and helping many Black Americans get into aviation.

But good ideas never die...

Greene County - Lewis A. Jackson airport is named for Dr. Jackson.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Walk... Jog... Run

To say that I am happy after my trip to LMFP is an understatement. There are 50 flights in my log book; three aerotow flights and 47 flights from the training hills. I did not get a chance to launch off of the mountain just yet, but it is on my list of things to do when I go back in May. I still have two aerotow fligts left. I used 3 out of the 4 aerotows that came with the Eagle Package, and I purchased another, leaving me with two aerotows for my next visit.

When foot launching a hang glider, a pilot holds the glider at the correct angle of attack and looks at his/her target. Then the pilot starts to walk, trots to a jog, then runs. The glider acquires enough airflow to generate lift and eventually carries the pilot into the air. This process has become my analogy for getting anything in life accomplished: First, you aim to do something. Then, you make gradual steps to getting it accomplished, and increasing your intensity until it get's "off the ground."

This is precisely how I managed to finally get into hang gliding after wanting to fly for so many years. It took small steps... saving money from each check from the beginning of this year, getting support from Blackstar Educational Institute, buying books to study, watching videos on youtube, exercising, talking to veteran pilots, and finally... showing up to Lookout Mountain Flight Park to dedicate an entire week to study.

This is far from over. I still have much to learn as a hang glider pilot. On my list of things to do this year is
  1. Gain a strong foundation in mountain launching and learn how to ridge soar.
  2. Get surface tow rated.
  3. Get aerotow rated.
  4. Learn how to thermal
  5. Learn how to ridge soar
  6. Take at least one cross country flight.
  7. Achieve my H3 rating.

One of my aerotow tandems...

Some foot launches from last week...

Friday, April 2, 2010


I began this blog in January, discussing how the dream of flight has always been elusive. I discussed how time and money have always been obstacles. Four months after I have started this blog, I am on the eve of my dream becoming a reality. Finally, I have found the money and the time to begin persuing my flight dreams. Tomorrow, I am heading to Lookout Mountain Flight Park. I will begin training under their Eagle Package. Over the week, I will fly as much as the atmosphere allows me to.

I had the opportunity to listen to NASA director Maj. General Charles Boden speak today at the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Chemists and Chemical Engineers Science Fair Awards Luncheon. Gen. Boden gave a very motivational speech about setting out to do what you want to do, and not letting anything deter you. The Irony of this was that Gen. Boden was one of my idols as a teenager. Back then, he was Col. Charles Boden the NASA Astronaut. Two of my students at Blackstar Educational Institute won awards in the science fair. They were around my age when I followed Boden's career as an astronaut and aspired to become one myself. Seeing them listen to Boden on the eve of my flight training was a powerful moment.

If weather permits, then tomorrow will feature my first Aerotow flight. I am going to try to get my aerotow flights done within the next few days, and my training on the hills on tuesday and wednesday. Thursday and Friday's weather forecasts call for thunderstorms. Realistically, I can expect some rain sometime during the week, because that is the nature of spring. But I think I can pull a good 6 days of training out of my spring break, and come back with my H2.