Living the Legacy of the Red Tails

by Zarren Riley

I step out into the daylight, a slight breeze cooling my face. I look to my left, black tar spanning a mile before my eyes, and then nothing but blue sky for as far as the eye can see. That’s my paradise up there in the clouds. That’s my livelihood.

It’s here, at the historic Moton Field Municipal Airport in Tuskegee, AL where it all began. It’s here where men like me did their first training sessions, made their first mistakes, landed their first planes. It’s here where the original Tuskegee Airmen trained to fight in a bloody war that brought the world to its knees. Tuskegee. There’s honor in the name, the kind of honor I can only hope to carry on through my own piloting endeavors.

I strap in and prepare to take off from a landing strip that’s seen more history than I’ll ever know. The wind is whipping, full throttle, and I’m off. I’ve left normal time and space. I feel that I am where I was always meant to be.

I grew up in an Air Force family in McDonough, GA just southeast of Atlanta. I can still remember watching planes as a young kid, tracing the circles of exhaust through the sky. There’s nothing greater than being able to watch a pilot pull a risky maneuver. One day I want to be a fighter pilot in the US Air force who gets to make their own calculated sky maneuver.

For now, I’m still an undergraduate student at Tuskegee University studying Aerospace Engineering. I currently hold positions of leadership in Air Force ROTC and the Arnold Air Society. Every morning I wake surrounded by men and women who hold the same passion for flying as I do. It’s a dream come true, but it’s only a step towards the ultimate dream.

I’m still a student, working hard in the classroom so I can put time and effort into working on my piloting skills through the Golden Eagle Aviation program. Thanks to the Red Tails Foundation, I get to do all of this without a financial burden loading me down. Thank you, donors and supporters, for giving me a chance to be a part of history.