The Black Pilots of America returned to Pine Bluff for their 22nd annual fly-in during the three day Memorial Day weekend. Each year the Black Pilots of America come from all over America to Pine Bluff to have fun, compete, entertain and introduce aviation to future pilots.
According to Bpapilots.org, BPA, Inc. is a non-profit flying organization established in 1997 with chapters located throughout the country. Its primary focus is to provide an atmosphere that encourages youth to learn to fly and perhaps aspire to own airplanes.
BPA,Inc. endeavors to introduce youth to aviation and to promote an interest in the various types of employment in the field of aviation. It further seeks to stimulate and encourage under privileged youth to consider broader job opportunities in all phases of aviation.
“Operation Skyhook” is the largest event attended of the four major annual events conducted by the BPA.
The kickoff for “Operation Skyhook” with the Black Pilots of America, began on Friday at the Grider Field Municipal Airport with a ‘Welcome to the City’ event held by the “Red Coats” and the Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce.
“On behalf of the Black Pilots of America, I would like to say that it is good to be back home again for the 22nd year,” said BPA Membership Chairman Fred Lewis.
In the absence of Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, her assistant Keidra Burrell, presented a welcome and a proclamation to the BPA on her behalf.
“This event brings a weekend full of aviation related activities and opportunities in flying to our community,” said Burrell. It also honors the historical significance of the Tuskegee Airmen that formed the foundation for Blacks in the field of aviation.”
The proclamation goes on to say, “The City of Pine Bluff is honored to be recognized as the ‘Home of the Black Pilots of America’ and look forward to this annual event. This exhibition provides a boost to the economic development of the city and the Pine Bluff Regional Airport. However, most importantly, is the positive impact the BPA have in our community. Our citizenry is enriched when this remarkable organization provides inspiration to our youth.”
Washington declared May 25, 2018 as ‘Operation Skyhook Fly-In Day’ in the City of Pine Bluff and “encourages all citizens to recognize the work of the BPA and to join in the celebration of the Blacks in aviation.”
Other Pine Bluff officials also presented a welcome to the BPA including Kenneth ‘Ken’ Johnson, Chairman of the Pine Bluff Aviation Commission, Pine Bluff Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant, Pine Bluff Fire Chief Shauwn Howell, Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson, Director of the Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce Nancy McNew, and Sheri Storie, Director of the Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotions Commission.
Following the ‘Welcome to the City’ event, the Flour Bomb Drop Competition amongst the pilots began.
The competition consisted of the pilots trying to drop flour bombs onto a designated target while flying at least 500 feet in the air. Pilots received so many points depending upon how close they came to the target.
Charles Masters from Texas, who has been a pilot for over 50 years, said that he has never hit the target directly in its center, but ‘I have gotten points for getting pretty close.”
On Saturday, May 26 the Pilot Proficiency Competition began at 10 a.m. and at 10 a.m. today,the pilots will compete in the Balloon Burst and Spot Landing. At the end of each day, when all competitions are complete, BPA members volunteer to give airplane rides, known as “Young Eagle” flights, to hundreds of kids.
An awards banquet will be held at 6:30 pm Sunday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center, where trophies are given to the members who have demonstrated their superior flying skills, as well as the chapter with the highest accumulated points. There is also an individual “Top Gun Award” for the supreme pilot accumulating the highest number of points.