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Two Of The Most Influential Black Pilots 'United' In Mission To Diversify Aviation

DENVER (CBS4) - United Airlines is looking to hire the next generation of aviators. As part of Black History Month, the airline hosted a special event at their training center in Denver on Monday.

One of the last living Tuskegee airmen in Colorado was there, helping to inspire young Coloradans to take flight.

Retired Lt. Colonel James Harvey III is 98 years young.

"Let's face it, I'm old," he said, getting a good laugh out of the audience.

united pilots
Lt. Col. James Harvey (left) and Capt. Carole Hopson (right) (credit: CBS)

His near century of life is an important part of history.

"One hundred seventy-nine bomber escort missions were flown. One hundred twelve enemy aircraft destroyed in the air," he explained, detailing what he and his fellow pilots endured during World War II.

Harvey is one of the first Black fighter pilots who flew with the Tuskegee Airmen. His one of few still alive today, and he's sharing his piloting past with the future.

"They were saying – and you know who 'they' are, the white man – that we did not have the ability to fly aircraft or operate heavy machinery," Harvey said as he shared what it was like to be a Black man in the 1940s.

For nearly an hour, some Denver Public School invited to United's event listed in awe to the retired colonel. Among them, 14-year-old Jose Peña, a freshman at Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy.

"That guy is amazing," Peña told CBS4. "The stuff he said, his history, it inspired me in a way."

That's the same kind of inspiration Capt. Carole Hopson is hoping to give to young people of color.

"I wanted to fly airplanes since I was a little girl!" she excitedly told the group.

Her dream came true. Hopson is a United Airlines captain, part of the fewer that 1% of Black female pilots.

"When I was born, little girls didn't fly airplanes. Little Black girls didn't fly airplanes," Hopson said.

In an effort to encourage more young Black women to pursue a career in aviation, Hopson also wrote the book A Pair of Wings. It's a novel based on the life of Bessie Colman – the first African American woman to hold a pilot's license.

"She flew planes in the 1920s," Hopson said. "Two years before Amelia Earhart."

It's a history few may realize yet should know. That's why two of the most influential Black pilots came together, united in their mission to inspire a more diverse future.

"Everything here makes me feel like I could be part of this, too," Peña said of the United event and the stories shared by Harvey and Hopson. "I learned so many new things and want to do more research into [aviation]."

RELATED: First Black Female Commercial Passenger Airline Captain Paving Way For Future Aviators

Hopson said United Airlines currently has the most Black female pilots, but still, that number is fewer than two dozen. Her hope is to use proceeds from her book to help pay for at least 100 Black girls to learn how to fly.

 

LINK: United Aviate Program

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