MUKILTEO —When the U.S. Navy launched a program last year to boost pilot diversity, it was limited to members of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
But the leader of a Mukilteo flying club for teens wanted the Navy to go one better and open it up to all high school students.
Jesse D Hayes IV, founder of the Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Club, got his wish this spring and more: A club member earned a slot in the elite program.
The Navy’s Summer Flight Academy is now open to all 11th- and 12th-graders, not just members of the Navy and Marine Corps junior ROTC.
The program allows students to earn their private pilot license and five college credits.
Zander Hamilton, a member of the Mukilteo Club since 2018, is one of 20 11th- and 12th-graders around the country who’ve been selected to participate in the program.
This year’s intensive eight-week session will be held at Delaware State University.
The Red-Tailed Hawks introduces underserved youth — Blacks, women and other people of color — to aviation, science and aerospace careers.
“The commander of Naval Air Force diversity and inclusion has been a supporter of the Red-Tailed Hawks and the Black Pilots of America,” said Hayes, an Air Force veteran and Boeing engineer who founded the Mukilteo club in 2013 to reach a broader group of kids.
“Last year they only selected kids in Junior ROTC,” Hayes said. “I called up the commander and asked him: ‘What would it take to open this up to the Red-Tailed Hawks?’”
Hayes was surprised by the response.
“He was crazy open to the idea, and then said — send me a name,” Hayes said. “Zander was at the top of the list.”
Commander Chris “Frozone” Williams, a Navy fighter pilot and director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said the scholarship program aims to expose “exceptional minority students to a career path that currently lacks diversity.”
“Zander Hamilton has what it takes to be a leader in the field of aviation, and the Navy is honored to play a part in his personal and professional journey,” Williams said.
About 14% of the nation’s population identified as Black in 2019, according to the Pew Research Center. The percentage of Black pilots in the military is believed to be in the single digits. in many cases, less than 2%. In the private sector, just 3.4% of commercial pilots in the U.S. are Black, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Students will receive a minimum of 32 hours of classroom instruction and 49 hours of flight training, including 17 hours of solo flight.
The program, valued at about $24,000 per person, is offered at no cost to students, Williams said.
Hamilton moved to the Pacific Northwest from Tennessee with his family in 2018 and discovered the Red-Tailed Hawks through a friend.
“They give young aviators, especially ones from marginalized groups,” a chance “to get a feel for aviation,” said Hamilton, 17.
He completed the club’s flight program, which offers a head start in getting a private pilot’s license, he said.
Now he’s looking at aviation as a possible career.
Hamilton will be a senior this fall at Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish.
“This is a really good move,” said Hamilton of the Navy program.
“Aviation is a lot of white males,” Hamilton said. “This opens it up to more people and gives everyone more of a fair chance.”
Hamilton has flown Cessna 152 and Cessna 172 single-engine airplanes from Paine Field in Everett, Boeing Field in Seattle and the Tacoma Narrows airport. He has not yet flown alone.
This year’s eight-week summer flight academy takes place from June 12 through August 5.
“My school ends on June 10 and I’ll be in Delaware on June 12,” Hamilton said.
Hayes is exuberant.
“We’re pretty excited by this opportunity,” Hayes said. “We hope he does well so he can pave the way for others to go.”