Ontario Offers Pathways Program for Aviation and Space
By Dianne Anderson
Ever since that first trip to the moon, probably the longest-running not-so-funny joke is that in case of a global meltdown, Black people are not making it off the planet.
That may have been true in Ed Dwight’s day when his dearest friends talked about how he was decades before his time.
Dwight, then an Air Force Lieutenant, was tapped by President Kennedy as a candidate and trained as the first Black astronaut, but the opportunity was short-lived. In another warp time, things may have been different.
Discrimination played a big role in not being able to pursue some of his higher goals.
“I was at the right place at the wrong time,” Dwight said. “If I heard it once, I heard a 100 times, you’re 20 years ahead of your time. This was by my friends who knew me and supportive of me.”
But he also believes the situation was more than unadulterated racism. The nation had to get big funding and NASA off the ground. A Black man or women in the debate mix would have jeopardized the mission.
“With my being there, or a woman being there, it would have taken the eyes off going into space, and put on social engineering,” he said. “Women also had a hard time, 27 women applied and they gave them harder tests.”
Despite closed doors, Dwight was destined for greatness.
In the early 1970s, he stepped away from NASA to become a nationally acclaimed sculptor with 129 major monuments across the nation. Dwight was among several dynamic presenters over the weekend at the Ontario Airport Pathways Program for Aviation and Space.
In the inevitable mission to Mars, Dwight said there will be a need for art in developing living spaces as Mars takes shape in the coming decades.
“Even in the engineering part of it, you have to think creatively to solve all the problems in the building place with machines, airplanes. People don’t call it art, but it is art,” he said.
Bruce Atlas, COO of Ontario International Airport, said Dwight has an amazing life story, and everyone was thrilled to have an engineer of his caliber come out to inspire students.
Atlas was one of the initiators of event, along with nonprofit Shades of Blue President Willie Daniels and Bob Barboza of the Barboza Space Center. Together, they are bringing aviation opportunities to local kids. Through upcoming programming, Tony Marshall, a Vietnam veteran pilot and war hero, is also teaching the students.
Atlas said the idea came while connecting with his friend Daniels, a 787 pilot and captain of United Airlines, as they shared concerns about the aviation industry. In the next 20 years, a shortage of over 800,000 pilots worldwide is projected.
“Baby boomers are aging out, they can only fly commercial to age 65. There’s not enough millennials or GenXr’s interested in the aviation field,” Atlas said.
To address the disconnect, the program helps students learn about flying drones, drone safety, aviation training, and exposure to complex concepts early on. With the space force, kids will learn about both blue and black space. Bob Barboza is teaching kids hands-on how to build robots, and operate robots on the surface of Mars.
Space, Mars, and many aviation opportunities are wide open for men and women of color. The hope is to give them a head start, perhaps improve upon old school space theories to find a better, faster way to get to Mars.
Classes are ongoing. Kids can get early access to achieve their private pilot license, eventually gaining time toward a commercial pilot license. Anyone can be involved, but many families can’t afford the usual $15-20,000 price tag.
“You have kids in the inner city that are just as smart and capable, but they don’t have the means to be able to pay for it. Why should they be left out?” Atlas said.
About 250 kids showed out at the event. They toured a private jet, and saw plenty of robots. Saturday classes will run every 8-16 weeks, and continue depending on the demand.
Kids met pilots and engineers that look like them at the event. Alyssa Carson, 18-year-old astronaut in training, shared her anticipation of being the first human on Mars.
Atlas said dozens of junior engineers, junior scientists, and industry leaders are connecting with the students about the possibilities.
“They’ll see how wonderful this is, and that might motivate them to stay in this industry [where] you can earn six figures for over 40 years,” he said.
Willie Daniels, who grew up in the Inland area, began his career as a flight attendant with United Airlines, and has been flying for 41 years.
“When I graduated, it was like someone reached in their pocket and pulled out a set of keys and said here are your keys to the world. I’ve been traveling the world ever since,” he said.
But the shortage of pilots is at a crisis level, and there is also a shortage of aircraft mechanics of about 770,000 globally, not to mention numerous adjacent jobs, including dispatchers, air traffic controllers.
“If they don’t want to be pilots, we can get them into other professions. Right now, we’re short over two million engineers,” he said.
Daniels said that partnering with Atlas, the Barboza Space Center, along with a host of other organizations is bringing high-quality expertise to inspire local kids from preschool through college.
His Shades of Blue program gets students on track, mentors them every step of the way. If the math is hard, he said they offer strong support to make it easy.
“They have kids doing trigonometry and differential equations on how to measure dust devils on the surface of Mars,” he said. “Some are 1,700 feet tall.”
Daniels established Shades of Blue 20 years ago, an organization of pilots, engineers, scientists, and educators with chapters in numerous cities and states. Today, Black and Brown kids are getting into top fields just as he envisioned.
Recently, his niece made captain, and another young man from Ontario is part of his organization. Navy commander Victor J. Glover, Jr. was selected in 2013 as one of the astronauts to go up to SpaceX International Space Station.
“Those are the things we’re actually seeing from our successes, we have a lot of folks hired on with several different airlines. We have a proven track record,” he said.
For parents that want to get their kids involved, scholarships are available.
“In my opinion, there’s a lot of diamonds in the rough out there, and I don’t want to leave any opportunity out for the kids,” he said.
For more information, see <http://www.aeropathways.com/>
To view Ed Dwight’s history, see <https://www.eddwight.com/>