Tidewater Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. Holds First Annual Youth Summer Drone Program

By Camille Birdsong

The Tidewater Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. held its first annual Youth Summer Drone Program from August 11 to the 14. Throughout the week, the youth received drone flight instructions and presentations in the mornings and flew drones in the afternoons.

“We had 18 students that came so we were able to meet our goal which was about 18 to 20 students,” said Otis Hooper, one of the staff members of the program. “This is the first time these drone camps have been conducted on this side of Virginia, so we were really pleased with the turnout.”

This four-day program gave youth from Newport News and Hampton City schools the opportunity to learn key skills that will put them on the track to become FAA Certified Pilots. The drone program was created to provide these opportunities for kids in the community who aren’t traditionally exposed to drones or other STEM-related programs.

“We have three main objectives. We want to make sure that kids get exposure, that they are educated on things, and that they understand legacy,” said Rickey Rodgers, Col, USAF (Ret), another staff member. “If you’re exposed to things you’ve never seen before, it leads you to want to learn more. And once you start learning, you realize the legacy that people who were involved with the Tuskegee Airmen have left behind.”

Special guests visited throughout the program to speak and engage with the kids including representatives from the Drone Units of Hampton and Newport News Police Departments; DroneUp, LLC; and Little Arms Studios, a simulation company.

Precautions for COVID-19 were observed at all times by all youth, staff, and visitors throughout the entire camp. The kids were required to wear gloves, face shields or masks, and sanitized multiple times throughout the day. Each of them had their own individual container to place their belongings at the end of the day. 

Despite it being their first youth drone program, the Tidewater Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. is already thinking of having another one next year or conducting the program semi-annually.

“Next year will be more STEM-centered,” said Clifton Douglas, Jr., Col, USAF (Ret), the director of the Youth Summer Drone Program. “So things like aerodynamics, algebra, geometry, the pros, and cons of fixed wings over rotary wings. The kids may not like it, but it’s necessary!”

The program ended with the students receiving a certificate and they were able to meet two of the originals members of the Tuskegee Airmen, SGT Harry Quinton, and SGT Thomas Newton.