The Tuskegee Eagles of St. Joseph, Missouri

The Tuskegee Eagles of St. Joseph, Missouri

By James Smith, EAA 68498

The Tuskegee Eagles initiative was conceived by community-minded people who share a common interest in aviation as well as a concern for the influence poverty and the urban culture have upon the future of our youth. We drew inspiration from the Tuskegee Airmen and EAA’s Young Eagles program to develop what was to become the Tuskegee Eagles. Our vision is to design the Tuskegee Eagles model for inner-city youth development and package it so as to be reproducible in other communities. Our mission is to provide education, inspiration, and motivation for students to rise above their circumstances and excel in life.

Though we have student participants from all walks of life, our primary focus is on reaching youth from limited family and cultural resources. We have developed a program format including a general lesson outline, public service activities, and outcomes assessment. Our instructors/mentors are all volunteers and generously donate their time and money on a weekly basis.

For other communities interested in replicating our program we can offer informal guidelines from concept to implementation including curriculum, affiliation with other like-minded organizations, mentor and instructor recruitment, student requirements, and fundraising.

We are constructing a Zenith CH 601 HD and expect the project to be completed in late 2017. We meet on Wednesdays after school and on Saturday mornings. Two of our students have attended the EAA Air Academy. A natural outcome of the project is the learning of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM):


Our students are introduced to the science surrounding aviation including basic aeronautics. They learn how planes fly and they get to go flying frequently. Each student is given his/her personal pilot’s logbook and introductory flying lessons, free of charge.


Beginning with fabrication of their own toolboxes, students advance to aircraft construction learning sheet metal, electronics, wiring, painting, and other skills. They learn the AN system of aviation hardware designation and as occasions arise, they get to participate in maintenance of aircraft owned by our instructors.


Through hands-on fabrication and assembly, students learn basic principles of aircraft design and construction. They learn to read, interpret, and apply blueprints and assembly instructions. They are encouraged to excel in science subjects in school in anticipation of one day studying engineering or pursuing a career in aviation.


Essential to aircraft construction is practical application of measurements, fractions, and reading tape measures. The Zenith CH 601 HD plans incorporate both standard and metric measurements and students develop practical use of both.

When asked about the greatest need for at-risk youth, the first response from youth advocates is “mentors.” According to Americas Promise, all indicators point to mentoring as being very powerful in the lives of young Americans. In the experience of Tuskegee Eagles, mentoring is neither complicated nor difficult. Mostly, all a mentor has to do is show up, commit to the student, and expect some ups and downs. The passion for aviation among our mentors and students gives a common ground for developing mentoring relationships. Some have earned a GED and joined the work force. Others have been presidents of their school classes, some have part-time jobs, and some are “A” students.

We have initiated community service activities as well. During the past two summers we have sponsored Youth in Aviation Week in collaboration with the St. Joseph Youth Alliance. Forty-five students outside the Tuskegee Eagles program were introduced to careers in general aviation and the Air National Guard. They were given Young Eagle rides, the first ever for several. We assisted in airport preparation for the Wing Nuts Flying Circus air show in Tarkio, Missouri, for three successive years. The air show is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Sam Graves and EAA Chapter 1405. For more information, see our website.


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