Air Force, Delaware State University complete joint ACE program

DSU Aviation Program instruction get a photo opp with Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, the highest ranking African American female pilot
in the U.S. Air Force. From left, are Neal Thompson, Brandon Tisdale, Ki Tak Kim, Dr. Vita Pickrum (VP of DSU Institutional Advancement),
Lt. Gen. Harris, (Ret.) Lt. Col. Micheal Hales, Maurice Ellis and Michael Sharp. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — The U.S. Air Force and Delaware State University have successfully completed an experimental aviation program that has provided training, motivation and mentorship to high school and college students who have a strong interest in a career in airway science.

The three-week Air Force Aviation-Character-Education Program was held from July 16-Aug. 4 at the Delaware Airpark – where the DSU Aviation Program bases its flight training and maintains its flight of planes.

Twenty-four aspiring pilots from across the country participated in the ACE Program, receiving 15 hours of dual flight instruction, 5-10 hours of flight simulator work, as well as ground training aviation science, technology engineering and mathematics. The ground training took place at the Bank of America Building on the DSU campus, and the students utilized DSU planes and the Delaware Airpark for their flight training.

Lt. Col. Kenyatta Ruffin, Division Chief of Outreach and Engagement for the Air Force Aircrew Crisis Task Force, said the ACE Flight Program is centered on aviation, character and education and is designed to reach people from all across America, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or background.

ACE Program participant 16-year-old Dominica Thomas of Pensacola, Fla., celebrates
after successfully completing her first solo flight. Her father Maj. Kenneth Thomas
(an ACE instructor) stands at the wing celebrating with her. (Submitted photo)

“It’s so that you have a tangible feel of what it’s like to be in the United States Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Kenyatta. “The unique opportunity we have to showcase through our role models and mentors — this is what it’s like to be an airman, this is how you go through pilot training, this is how you go through college and get a commission.”

A highlight of the ACE Program took place July 27 when Lt. Gen. Stayce D. Harris, the highest-ranking African American female in the U.S. Air Force, paid a visit and spoke to the students.

Lt. Gen, Harris is currently the Inspector General of the Air Force under the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force in Washington, D.C. During her visit, she was introduced to each student as well as each Air Force and DSU instructor, and she shared some of her Air Force career experiences.

When asked which characteristic that the students should most cultivate, she said she most looks for military members to be team players, while at the same time developing oneself in ways to be highly valued as a career-long outcome. She noted that military females have a role to play to ensure that they are treated with respect.

“You need to find your own voice to keep the proper climate of dignity and respect,” Lt. Gen. Harris said.

The 24 ACE Program students included 11 high school students, eight college Air Force ROTC cadets, two U.S. Air Force Academy cadets and three Air Force second lieutenants.

During the program, 22 of the 24 participants were able to take their first-ever solo flight. Upon completing their individual solo flight, each pilot was then doused in a gauntlet of water buckets as a show of fun camaraderie among the group of participants.

Because many commercial airlines are attracting and hiring pilots away from active duty service, there is currently a shortage of military pilots. In addition, there is a shortage of minority pilots in the Air Force and commercial airlines.

According to the Air Force, only 5.7 percent of its pilots are women, 1.7 percent are African-American and 2 percent are Asian. The Federal Aviation Administration reports that only 4.4 percent of commercial airline pilots are women, 2.7 percent are African-American and 2.5 percent are Asian.

Lt. Col Michael Hales, director of the DSU Aviation Program, said the ACE Program was a successful partnership between the University and the Air Force.

“This was an opportunity for DSU be part of a solo-flight program that had never been done before with the U.S. Air Force,” Lt. Col. Hales said. “This ACE Camp can help the Air Force fix its pilot shortage concerns. At the same time, we found a diverse group of trainees who are interested in becoming Air Force pilots.”

Lt. Col. Hales added that there already are serious discussions taking place about the Air Force and DSU running the ACE Program again in the summer of 2019.

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