Two Liberty University School of Aeronautics students participated in one of the largest air shows in the country this summer, joining thousands in Oshkosh, Wis., for the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) AirVenture show July 23-29. While they were there, they witnessed a part of their heritage.
Seniors Silvanous “Sil” Parchment II and Julius Smith, specializing in commercial/corporate aviation, posed with a P51 Mustang flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, the first all African-American fighter squadron in the United States armed forces. Formally called the 332nd Fighter Group, they received the nickname “Red Tails” after the planes’ tails were painted red during World War II. The squadron was the subject of a 2012 film, “Red Tails,” produced by George Lucas.
“It was a great opportunity to see the adversity that these legendary pilots had to overcome just to prove that they were just as competent aviators as the other pilots in the United States military,” said Smith. “To see that they paved the way for younger generations of African-Americans like me means a lot.”
Captain Ernie Rogers, associate dean of the Liberty University School of Aeronautics, encouraged the two students to attend the show.
“The Tuskegee Airmen exhibit and P-51 Mustangs aircraft of the world-famous Red Tail squadron was not only informative but designed to encourage today’s youth to meet challenges head on and rise above adversity to succeed,” he said. “These two young pilots are continuing the rich tradition of the Tuskegee Airmen by excelling in aviation, academics, and leadership.”
Rogers said young African-American students have made an impact on the aviation program at Liberty since it started 10 years ago. One of those is 2006 graduate Anthony Beckles, who became the youngest captain in American Eagle Airlines earlier this year. In 2004, he was the first student awarded the School of Aeronautics’ Pilot of the Year award.
Parchment, a junior, also competes for the Liberty Flames track and field team as a hurdler. He didn’t become interested in aviation until he attended Liberty and said one of his career objectives is to connect young minorities to the field.
“The small percentage of African American pilots at the university level reflects the shortage of us in the airline industry, which I believe is simply due to a lack of exposure to aeronautics,” he said. “Every time I finish a flight I always wish that someone would have introduced the world of aviation to me as a child, but I am grateful that at least someone did at all.”