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'Operation Skyhook:' Organizers hope to inspire future Black pilots in Arkansas

Pilots from around the country have returned to Pine Bluff for the first time since the pandemic, hoping to inspire the next generation of pilots.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Black Pilots of America (BPA) is an organization with 18 chapters across the country.

Since 1997, members have been gathering here in Pine Bluff for a family-fun event called 'Operation Skyhook' which organizers hope will inspire kids to become future pilots one day.

It's never too early to start thinking about what you want to do in life.

For Eric Burdette, a member of Black Pilots of Americans, he knew when he was 5 years old.

"Seeing all the airplanes flying around here sparked my interest in aviation," Burdette said.

His career more or less started on the tarmac at Grider Field Airport in Pine Bluff.

His frequent visits to the airport eventually lead to his first flight in 1989.

"I was too excited to be nervous at the time," Burdette said.

Fast forward to now with the help of a family friend and Eric has been a commercial pilot for more than a decade. 

"A boost to my aviation career was actually being able to have someone to mentor me," Burdette said.

His mentor was Ken Johnson, coordinator for the BPA event.

"I just really get a big kick out of not only teaching, but also taking up kids on their first ride in an airplane," Johnson said.

He's been apart of the event for more than two decades.

The event was paused because of the pandemic, but organizers are happy to be back this year.

"We [are] all excited now to have everybody back here and matter of fact, this is why you [could] possibly see record attendance, because we came back out," Johnson said.

Pilots from around the country come to Pine Bluff and are ready to compete in several contests throughout the Memorial Day weekend.

For Johnson, he just wants future pilots to have an early start to their career.

That is something that he said he missed out on when he was a child.

"I was some 20 years old before I had an opportunity to go up. I wanted to do it early, but it wasn't possible," Johnson said.

It's a commitment to the youth that's shared by everyone out there. Years later and Burdette continues to come back with hopes of returning the favor.

"You just can't get to a point and not continue to pull people up behind you." Burdette said.

Organizers said this is their largest event.

They'll also be hosting a summer flight academy for young children in July.

For those interested, you can find a full list of the events for Black Pilots of America's here.


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