Friday, July 17, 2015

Before They were Tuskegee Airmen They were DSU Alumni

Did you know that Delaware State University offers bachelors’ degrees in Aviation Management and Professional Pilot? Yes! It’s true!

Our story begins in 1939.  The Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) Act of 1939 established flight programs at colleges and universities across the United States, but the historically black colleges and universities were excluded. Would-be African American pilots petitioned President Roosevelt to allow them to be included in CPT programs. They were successful! By the end of 1939 the Civil Aeronautics Authority (later named the Federal Aviation Administration) approved several HBCUs including, Delaware State University, to initiate CPT programs for a limited quota of students. When the Tuskegee Army Flying School opened in 1941 as a result of World War II several hundred graduates of HBCU flight schools made their way to the army. It is likely that DSU alumni were among the ranks of renowned Tuskegee Airmen.

The flight school that was present in the early days of DSU fell to the wayside sometime around World War II.  However, during the 1987-1988 academic year the Department of Airway Science was revitalized.  Degrees in Aircraft Systems Management and Airway Science Management were offered in part thanks to an association with the United Air Lines.

In this photograph from the University Archives, the 1988 Flight Team stands with President Delauder following a regional flight competition.  Caption on Back: "DSC 1988 Precision Flight Team; Team Awards - First in Safety, Third in Ground Events, Fourth Overall; 1988 National Intercollegiate Flying Association SAFECON, MacArthur Field, Long Island, NY” Daeshawn, Paul, and Justin explained that for DSU, the most coveted prize at SAFECON is not to be #1 team, but to achieve the Safety Award.

Today the students of the DSU Aviation program thrive.  They proudly fly a fleet of 10 aircrafts; six Piper Warriors, two Piper Arrows, a Piper Tomahawk, and a Piper Seneca multi-engine. The DSU planes are all painted bright blue with red tails in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen who paved the way before them.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with current juniors, Daeshawn Rose, Paul Scherry and Justin Thompson to hear about their experiences in the DSU aviation program. Daeshawn explained, “I love being a part of DSU’s aviation program because it allows me to do things that the average college student would not be able to do.” He wasn’t kidding.  DSU aviation students depart daily from the Dover Municipal Airport for destinations all across the East Coast. Not only do they network and interact with professional pilots and air traffic controllers along the way, but they also get to explore the eastern United States.  They fly over some of the most famous vistas such as Niagara Falls and New York City.  Feel like flying to North Carolina for a sandwich? No problem. These guys know the best airport restaurants and small town USA eateries.

 Click here to view the DSU Aviation webpage. So if you see a blue and red dot moving across the sky, cheer on your fellow classmates. In the future they will be the ones to fly you across the country, transport your packages, and perform a whole host of other services.


Carver, Joseph, and Jerome A. Ennels. The Tuskegee Airmen: An Illustrated History, 1939-1949. Montgomery, AL: NewSouth Books, 2011.

DSU students talk about in-flight maneuvering circa 2000. Notice the wing of the
DSU plane has red stripping in homage to the Tuskegee Airmen who
helped pave the way for these students.
Photograph Source: PR Photographic collection, DSU archives
 Written by Joy Scherry

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