As a tribute to Grider Field Municipal Airport and the Black Pilots of America's annual fly-in Operation Skyhook Memorial weekend event, Gerald Andrews, an airport commissioner, recently presented a study on aviation in Pine Bluff and African Americans.

As a tribute to Grider Field Municipal Airport and the Black Pilots of America’s annual fly-in Operation Skyhook Memorial weekend event, Gerald Andrews, an airport commissioner, recently presented a study on aviation in Pine Bluff and African Americans.

As the municipal airport continues to improve its diverse facilities, Andrews, a former NASA spacemobiler, said he envisions along with others, an Aeronautics and Space Science museum for Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff.

In addition to a WWII pilot training barracks on the historical register, he foresees a Sesquicentennial historical marker for the site, Grider Plantation, and a marker for the Black Pilots of America.

Aviation in Pine Bluff

Pine Bluff School of Aviation began operations on March 22, 1941, at the airport built by the city of Pine Bluff and the WPA. The foundation of the Pine Bluff School of Aviation was the results of the great demand for pilots during World War II. The grounds made available by the city of Pine Bluff for the flying school was a 747-acre site. The course in aviation at the school consisted of 10 weeks; 140 hours ground work and 60 hours flying time. The occupying land was formerly the McGavocis plantation near what was referred to as Grider, Ark.

Black Pilots-Arkansas

The Black Pilots of America each year host “Operations Skyhook” at Grider Field. This activity is part of the annual Memorial Day fly-in. About 140 black pilots from across the country participate in competitions. Events include a “pile on” race centered around the airport, spot landing, pilot proficiency test FA programs, cross country, and balloon competitions. Free rides are given to children encouraging them to become aviators. Ken Johnson of Rison/Pine Bluff is the National Operations Officer for BPA. He is a pilot and flight instructor, and member of Arkansas Aeronautics Commission. Smith International Airport A-VET Aero Services of Sherrill is the first and only Black owned and operated airport in Arkansas. Beverly Smith, owner; Willie Smith AP&IA Chief Inspector, operate Smith airport. Andrews of Hot Spring/Pine Bluff was a National Aeronautic and Space Administration Spacemobiler/Education (NASA 1965). He is the historical compiler for Juneteenth.

Sources for this article included Black Firsts, Jessie Carney Smith; Civil Rights Chronicle: The African American Struggle for Freedom Clayborne Carson, Ph.D., Consultant; and A Century of Flights, Ray Bonds.