Next generation of Tuskegee Airmen take off

WEST CHICAGO, Ill. -- In the skies above DuPage County, Illinois, near Chicago, some young African-American pilots are earning their wings.

For many, the smaller the plane, the higher the anxiety -- especially when the pilot is a teenager who's only been flying for four weeks.

Nineteen-year-old Malcolm Dunn is in the pilot class of Tuskegee NEXT, a summer program developing the next generation of African-American aviators, named for the first generation: the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.

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Cadets at the Basic and Advanced Flying School for Negro Air Corps Cadets are shown here, January 23, 1942, lined up for review with Major James A. Ellison. AP Photo/U.S. Army Signal Corps

Half are from Chicago's South Side, like Malcolm.

"My friend Corey, rest in peace, he was murdered in February," Malcolm said, adding that he thinks about his friend when he flies. "Yeah, I'll take a look over, try to configure his face in the clouds."

Discovering a Tuskegee Airmen's WWII biplane

Only 2 percent of the country's licensed pilots are black.

"Mostly our people see like rap stars and basketball stars - 'Oh, yeah, we can do that,'" Malcolm said. "You don't really see any black pilots."

Stephen Davis, chair of the DuPage County Airport, founded the program in part to increase diversity in aviation.

"I want the kid who may not, without this program, would not have the opportunity to excel," Davis said. "So hopefully, if these kids want to become pilots, the opportunity will be there -- or they may want to be our next senator, congressman or possibly president."

As a boy, Davis wanted to fly but couldn't afford it. Training for a pilot's license can cost more than $10,000. Here, the students are earning theirs for free.

The original Tuskegee Airmen would likely be proud. In fact, they are.

Milton Williams, now 93, flew 38 missions during World War II.

"After the war, I couldn't even join the National Guard," Williams said. "That was unheard of."

The student pilots recognize the Tuskegee legacy and have thanked Williams for the trails he and his colleagues blazed.

"If it wasn't for him and their trials and errors and their hard work, we wouldn't have this program," teenager Marcellus said.

"No one wants to see us fail," another student pilot named Amira said. "Everyone wants us to succeed."

Success they say they owe to those who follow and those who soared before them.