Tuskegee Airmen: Tidewater Chapter 2023 Drone Summer Camp

  • Published
  • By Jasmine Braswell
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs

The Tidewater Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen held its fourth annual Drone STEM Summer Camp at Gethsemane Baptist Church in Newport News, VA recently.  

Supporting this event is a way the USAF U.S. Air Force community meets with youth from different backgrounds and ethnicities who have interests in aviation and technology.  This year’s camp welcomed 42 students who are primarily “at risk” sixth to eighth graders selected by guidance counselors from Virginia Peninsula school districts. 

“The drone is a catalyst for education,” said camp founder retired U.S Air Force Col. Clifton Douglas Jr. “We not only put professionals in front of the students that they can emulate, but we also show them that whatever they’re feeling about themselves, we have not given up on them, neither have their guidance counselors, teachers or their parents.”

The camp teaches the fundamentals of flying drones with an emphasis on safety. The students wear bands that identify who they are and the bands also list the standard pre-flight and post flight rules that are required for anybody whether they are a commercial aviator or a hobbyist.  When the students graduate from the camp, they take their badges with them to mark this ac-complishment.  

Madison Goodwin, an 11-year-old first time camper said, “I’m excited to learn how to fly my drone and know what the buttons do.” 

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Rickey Rodgers is one of the camp coordinators and he has been active with the Tuskegee Airmen, Tidewater Chapter since 2017. He currently serves as Deputy Chief, Inspections Division for ACC/IG.

“Had they, (Tuskegee Airmen), not dealt with all the things they had to deal with, there would not have been a clear path for me to accomplish so many of the things I was able to do. I think there’s a scripture that says, ‘To whom much has been given, much is required.’ I think that teaches us when we have been given something we should try and give back. This is just an opportunity for me to give back,” said Rodgers.

Brig. Gen. Travolis Simmons, HQ ACC/IG visited the camp and spoke to the students about his experiences. He later shared his thoughts on the importance of supporting programs like this camp. 

Said Simmons, “As a kid, I didn't have a ton of exposure to anything aviation related. I would have really enjoyed an opportunity like Drone Camp where I could communicate with individuals in the aviation industry.” 

He continued, “This camp was an opportunity for us to get out and connect with future airmen. We were able to reach a demographic that may not have had much exposure to the Air Force, to all that the Air Force brings to include the awesome opportunities that the Air Force can provide. I encourage all Airmen to participate in programs like this because diversity makes our Air and Space Force better.”

The camp organizers hope to expand the program next year to include the fundamentals of drones in photography and videography, quality imagery, data storage and responsible social media use.