MUKILTEO, Wash., February 14, 2022 – Hundreds of students have been soaring through the skies over Mukilteo with the Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Club since its founding in 2013. The club, which serves underrepresented and underserved communities in the area, has ignited a passion for aerospace in many of its young students.
The club held its first small meeting with 18 in attendance at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship. “I invited a bunch of folks to church, really,” founder Jesse Hayes told the Lynnwood Times. “We talked about pilot knowledge, we talked about aviation history, we made paper airplanes. We had a great time. And I asked everybody, I said, ‘Hey, you guys, do y’all want to do it again?’ And everybody said yes.”
That night, two students became the club’s first “due-paying members.” The club has since grown to over 100 members in the last eight years and has seen over 3000 students come through its several programs, many of whom go on to pursue aerospace careers.
The flying club operates under the Black Pilots of America (BPA), Inc., a non-profit organization established in 1997. As the first BPA chapter in Washington, the “Red-Tailed Hawks” title is a reference to the Red Tail Tuskegee Airmen and the Seattle Seahawks football team, according to founder Jesse Hayes.
An arm of the BPA, the Red-Tailed Hawks Club follows a larger goal of empowering people of color to pursue aviation and other STEM opportunities, but their inclusive message remains – all are welcome.
“You know, this industry is one that is diverse and inclusive,” Hayes told the Lynnwood Times. “We do have an affinity for Black people. But we but we are very diverse.”
“Currently less than 2% of the pilots in America are Black, and less than 6% of the pilots in America are women,” said Hayes also said in a promotional video. “We need an avenue to provide a real opportunity for folks that are interested in aviation to get a foothold into the aviation industry.”
And the organization does just that, starting young aviation enthusiasts on a path to success through aviation day camps and flight training programs in Boeing Field, Seattle. One of their more well-known programs is the Red-Tailed Hawks Flight Lessons for Youth (FLY), a summer training program where young cadets aged 16-21 earn 40 hours of ground school, 10-12 hours of flight training, 10 hours of earth and space sciences, and over 20 hours of personal mentoring.
For students looking for year-round programs, the organization also offers its Red-Tailed Hawks Youth Program, a STEM program that meets monthly to teach students about the aerospace industry, pilot knowledge, and aviation history.
Every year, the club also sponsors 3-5 young cadets in Mukilteo to attend the BPA national flight training program in Houston, Tex. The program, which would otherwise cost $3800, is free for those Red-Tailed Hawks members who earn full-ride scholarships – that is, if students are willing to put in the work.
“Our kids earn their scholarships,” Hayes said. “The kids that do the work get the money. No matter what your economic status, if your kid does the work, Red-Tailed Hawks will help you out.” Hayes added with a hearty laugh that he is always looking for an opportunity to hand out a scholarship to anyone willing to receive it.
Many of the club’s young members go on to pursue aviation and STEM fields, including London Holmes, who attended the Summer Flight Academy in 2017, earning her private pilot certificate in high school. London has since entered the United States Air Force Academy, class of 2025.
The club aims to foster personal growth and exceptional achievement within its students, with a deep focus on mentoring and camaraderie. Hayes tries to keep in touch with as many of his students as he can.
“I try to stay in contact with all of them because I want to stay with them for life,” he said.
And the expectation of youth members is high. And just like Hayes, who appears to give his students a good dose of tough love, even brochure tells it like it is: “Excellent character, conduct and maturity are required of all students.” But that may be what makes Red-Tailed Hawks members great leaders, and what brings those members back time and time again.
The club’s focus on leadership has created a generation of exceptional young members who come back as instructors at the club. One such instructor is Spencer Brashears, whose passion for aviation began when he joined the Red-Tailed Hawks his senior year of high school.
“Red-Tailed Hawks has had a positive impact in my life in so many ways,” said Brashears. “What I value the most . . . is just the camaraderie – just being there with a bunch of other black pilots, other brothers and sisters who fly. We can talk, laugh, eat, have fun, play games, you know, talk smack about who’s the best pilot, who had the best landings. That’s what I enjoy the most – just being around my people, just being around people who are like-minded with me and share the same love and passion for aviation as I do.”
Despite now working on the East Coast, Brashears says he will fly back for the club anytime.
The Red-Tailed Hawk Club also features its annual Future Thrust Awards, which are designed to honor exceptional leaders for their outstanding service to their community. This year, the club honored Dr. Terence H. Fontaine for his exceptional service to Houston, Tex.
Fontaine began his aviation career after enlisting in the United States Marine Corps in 1978. In 2014, Fontaine earned his Doctorate in Education at Texas Southern University (TSU), where he currently serves as Director of Aviation, overseeing a Bachelor of Science program in Aviation Science Management. It is for his work at TSU that Fontaine has been awarded the Leroy Roberts Award for Propelling Education.
The club’s other awards include the Les Morris Award for Propelling Youth Programs and the Walt Braithwaite Award for Propelling Careers. All the awards are named after exceptional Black pilots who have made great contributions to the aviation industry.
The Red-Tailed Hawks have continued the vision of Black Pilots of America, providing opportunities and services to underserved and underrepresented youth at little-to-no cost. The 501(c)(3) relies on generous donors to cover the costs of their programs.
Growing quickly, the club is looking to expand its programs by adding two airplanes and additional engineers and educators to their staff. If anyone would like to contribute to the Red-Tailed Hawks’s mission, head to the club’s website: https://redtailedhawksflyingclub.org/donate/.