A member of the Black Pilots of America is concerned about today's youth.

A member of the Black Pilots of America is concerned about today’s youth.

“Were losing them, folks,” Fred Lewis said Thursday at the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club meeting.

“We need to expose them to aviation,” said Lewis, who is in town for the 16th annual Operation Skyhook.

Operation Skyhook is a three day event sponsored by the Black Pilots of America that includes aviation competitions, airplane rides for youth and seminars. The event will be held Friday through Sunday at Grider Field Municipal Airport.

“This is what it’s all about,” Lewis said Thursday as he showed Rotary members pictures of children riding in airplanes and taking part in activities during Operation Skyhook.

“We want to open doors to the children and show them there is more than rap music and the streets,” he said.

When most children think of aviation they think the only job is being a pilot, however that’s not entirely the case, he said.

“You have to know who the important people are,” Lewis said, referring to other positions such as mechanics.

Lewis gave a short history on how Operation Skyhook began. Pilots Horace Noble and Jesse Hayes founded the event in 1997. The men were in Mississippi when they decided to make a bet on who could fly their plane faster. Other men wanted to get involved so they knew they needed to organize an event that involved flying and other competitions, Lewis said.

Operation Skyhook began in Yazoo City, Miss. The event has also taken place in Wichita, Kan., Tuskegee, Ala., and Pine Bluff, where it has been held since 1996.

Upon arriving for the first time in Pine Bluff, members of the BPA were welcomed with a sign that read, “Pine Bluff Welcomes BPA Pilots.”

“You made us feel welcome,” Lewis said.

Since then, BPA has called Pine Bluff home for 16 years.

This weekend at Grider Field, the first competition will be the flour bomb drop, which will begin at 10 a.m. Friday.

Saturday, the pilot proficiency and formation competition will begin at 10 a.m.

The last two competitions, balloon bursting and spot landing will take place Sunday.

Every day after competition has ended, children are welcomed to free airplane rides, weather permitting.

Sunday, guest speaker Major General John H. Bailey II from the Bailey Military Institute will be present and awards will be given out. According to BPA’s website, a banquet will take place at Harbor Oaks Resort.

Although the main point is to get the children interested in aviation, Lewis says it’s also about the trophies.

“We’re all kids at heart. We want to brag,” he said.

Details: Call Grider Field at 534-4131.