Inspiring the next generation: all-black Gunship crew performs flyover at Red Tails Classic

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Natalie Fiorilli
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

I want to give them something I never had.”

This weekend, an all-black aircrew from Hurlburt Field, Florida performed a flyover for the Red Tails Classic in Montgomery, Alabama, Sept. 3, 2023. For the crew, including U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Curtis Lassiter, it was more than an honor to be part of the flight - it was also an opportunity to inspire the next generation.

“I want them to be able to see someone who looks like them, doing something they aspire to do,” he said. “That’s something I didn’t really have, especially at the start of my career.”

When he arrived at his first flying squadron 16 years ago, Lassiter was one of only a handful of African Americans. A special missions aviator, now with the 73rd Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Lassiter noted that in particular, he found there to be much fewer African American flyers.

However, a lot has changed since then, Lassiter noted.

“I don’t have to think about if it changed or if it is changing - there’s been major strides,” he said, adding that the flyover this weekend helped to highlight that progression.

Similarly, AC-130J pilot and aircraft commander for the flyover Capt. Malcom Lee recalls moments during his 17-year career where he was one of only a few African Americans in his squadron.

“It can be a kind of isolating feeling,” Lee said. “But, the fact that we are shifting to adapt and become more diverse and inclusive is so important.”

The flyover featuring an AC-130J Gunship, kicked off the Red Tails Classic football game between Tuskegee University and Fort Valley State.

An annual event, the Red Tails Classic showcases Historically Black Colleges and Universities and is held in recognition of the famed Tuskegee Airmen – a group of African American military pilots and crews who fought in World War II.

It was an added honor to be able to participate in an event held in tribute of the Tuskegee Airmen, Capt. Lee said.

“When I think back to their shared stories of adversity and everything they went through to be able to wear the uniform and to wear those pilot wings, I think they would be proud to see a moment like this,” Lee said.

Along with participating in the flyover, the crew was recognized on the field at halftime - in front of the nearly 15,000 fans in attendance.

The crew included a variety of flying positions including pilots, a combat systems officer, special missions aviators and aircraft maintenance crew chiefs.

“I never would have guessed that I would get to have this opportunity,” said Senior Airman Christopher Miller, a crew chief with the 73rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit. “I really feel a sense of pride in knowing that our dreams of flying and being in the Air Force might inspire someone else’s dream and help lead them to it.”