Reviving Tuskegee’s spirit of aviation

 gea-magazineOriginally published in The AutoPilot Magazine Southeast edition.

Growing up in Tuskegee, Alabama, at a time when the Tuskegee Airmen trained at Moton Field Municipal Airport during World War II, Dr. Bill Winston took his first ride in a Piper Cub. As the nose of the aircraft headed toward the clouds, “I knew that this was one of the things that I was supposed to do in life.”

The same pilot that trained the Tuskegee Airmen, Alfred “Chief’ Anderson, trained Winston who then went on to serve 7 years in the Air Force flying F-4 Phantom jets in numerous combat missions in Vietnam and receiving numerous awards for his superior flight skills and competitions, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. He still holds his commercial license. But after he returned to his hometown and saw the economic trauma that it was in, he decided to use his pilot expertise to spearhead Golden Eagle Aviation, an FBO. His mission is to revitalize Tuskegee by providing employment for potentially hundreds of workers.

Winston says when he was young, the Army airbase in Tuskegee employed 15,000 people and it was the largest payroll of African-Americans in the world. “I’ve seen the city flourish and if we can start a wave of new economic growth, we can help rebuild the city.”

The Tuskegee Airmen were determined men who enlisted to become America’s first black military airmen. 06A was originally the only primary flight-training facility for African-American pilot candidates during World War II. It was named after Robert Russa Moton, the second president of the Tuskegee Institute. Pilots who passed the initial training at 06A were then transferred to Tuskegee Army Air Field for advanced education and assignments. From 1941 through 1946, 996 pilots graduated at TAAF, receiving commissions and pilot wings.

Winston’s total plan includes not just creating jobs, but providing training for the Tuskegee workforce so that they can fill the jobs as they come available. Golden Eagle Aviation will have an aviation maintenance academy (Part 127 and 145 certified) to train maintenance workers and a flight training academy. Winston wants to expand this division to generate at least 15-100 jobs and then move into phase two, which is cargo. He expects to have over two hundred employees with the expansion.

As of now, the FBO provides aircraft detailing, maintenance, and fuel and oil services. It has a pilot’s lounge, Internet access and conference rooms to complement 06A’s 5,000-foot runway. The runway is freshly flanked with new lights and Winston is working on extending the runway by 2,000 feet.

Golden Eagle is 06A’s sole PRO. It took off in March 2009, operating out of a temporary facility, but still focusing on growth and great service. By the end of the year, Golden Eagle will have two rows of T-hangers accommodating a total of 10 aircraft. In March, it will move into its brand new facility, which complements the other historical aspects of the airport. The airport houses its own museum that people fly in from all over the world to see, the Tuskegee Airmen National Center. The center honors the men’s service and preserves their history.

Winston grew up with many of the Tuskegee Airmen like Chappie James and his son. He continuously reflects back on his rich childhood experiences to derive a plan for young aspiring pilots. He wants to give other young minorities an opportunity to learn to fly during summer breaks. “We will bring them here for two weeks and have them do nothing but fly to help put minorities in the cockpit and do our jobs in terms of rebuilding the legacy of this place,” says Winston.

“In my youth I saw how much of an economic engine Moton Field was. The first thing I thought of to empower the city of Tuskegee was aviation. This is such a historic place for flying and we are going to continue the legacy.”

Winston is not only revitalizing Tuskegee, but other areas as well through his numerous affiliations. Winston is also the founder and president of the Joseph Business School, which has opened new locations throughout the U.S. and in other countries; The Joseph Center Vocational Training Program, whose mission is to train people in specialized job skills for high paying and in demand occupations; chairman of the board of Covenant Bank; and president of New Covenant Community Development Corporation, whose mission is to revitalize communities spiritually and economically.

Reprinted with the permission from The AutoPilot Magazine Southeast edition.

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