Published 1:45 am Thursday, February 28, 2019

Red Level graduate Dorian Sankey is training to become a pilot with hopes of being an Air Force pilot – a field that has only 2% minorities. He has the support of the historic Red Tail Foundation

Red Level High School alumni Dorian Sankey didn’t originally want to go into the military, but now he has his eyes set on becoming a pilot in the United States Air Force, earning a Red Tail Scholarship in the process.

Dorian Sankey planned a training flight with landings at the South Alabama Regional Airport recently so he see his mom, AES counselor Angela Carter Sims. She surprised him by bringing a group of family and friends to cheer him on.
Courtesy photo

Sankey joined the Air Force after he graduated from Auburn University with a degree in psychology.

“Originally when I went to Auburn, I was an engineering major,” Sankey said. “But then I got, I guess, complacent with life and changed my major to psychology.”

Deymond Sankey, his brother, was the driving force behind him joining the Air Force. Now he is going on two years in the Air Force and followed in the footsteps of his brother as an integrated avionics specialist.

“To be honest, my brother was already a part of the Air Force,” Sankey said. “So he kind of put that bug in my ear.”

Sankey said his previous engineering background and current job as an integrated avionics specialist help him in the cockpit.

“As far as the system knowledge, like all of the digital systems, I work on those,” Sankey said. “So it was a pretty easy transition for me to go from a mechanic to a pilot. The only thing I really had to learn was the muscle memory of flying.”

Sankey said he was afraid of flying when he was younger.

“At first, to be honest, I was kind of afraid of flying,” Sankey said. “But when I got in the Air Force and started learning about some of the things that I work on with the airplanes, it made me interested in learning how to fly.”

Right now, Sankey is in the process of getting certified as a pilot.

“You have that take a couple of tests, on top of being applicable to a pilot spot,” Sankey said. “They don’t really sign off on people without any flight experience so right now, I got a scholarship called the Red Tail Scholarship which will pay for my certification. Once I get my pilot’s license, then I can start the process of becoming a military pilot.”

The scholarship is funded by the Red Tail Foundation.

Before 1940, African Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military. It was not until the establishment of a program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft that minority pilots took flight. This select group of Tuskegee Airman became known as the “Red Tails,” and were the first African Americans trained by the military and permitted to engage in combat operations. These brave pilots possessed unwavering courage, professionalism and patriotism, which has defined much of the United States’ aviation history. The Red Tail Foundation’s goal is to find qualified, motivated students who demonstrate all of the values that the original Tuskegee Airman embodied and give them the tools necessary to succeed in this competitive career field.

“A colonel and major put my name in a pool of many other names to get the scholarship,” Sankey said. “This career field has only two percent minorities and an even smaller percentage of that is African American, so they are giving us an opportunity when we receive this scholarship. There are several requirements for this scholarship including a test, an application and a board has to review your application.”

Sankey said that it is a surreal feeling to follow in the footsteps of the Tuskegee Airmen.

“I was actually going through the scholarship process in late 2017 and then in early 2018 when I started ground training, I got the chance to meet one of the Tuskegee Airmen,” Sankey said. “I talked to him and commemorated him for his service. He encouraged me. For me to go to the hangar in Tuskegee, and read over some of the history and some of the things that these guys had to deal with, it makes you want to not squander the opportunity you have.”

For anyone out there that are interested in becoming a pilot, Sankey said to make sure and research and to make sure it is something that they want to do.

“It is very time consuming and there is a lot of studying that goes with it,” Sankey said. “A mistake is fatal, because you have to be mentally perfect every time you get in the plane. I also say that if you want to be a pilot, then try it, because it is definitely an experience that most people don’t get to experience.”

Sankey said that the best part about flying is the challenge.

“The confidence that I get whenever I have flown and landed is one of the best feelings,” Sankey said. “It’s like I did something that most people aren’t acclimated to do. I mean keeping in mind everything, cross referencing gages, looking at the flight environment, the wind might not be the same as when you took off, there are just so many factors that go into it. For me it presents a challenge.”

Ten years down the road, Sankey hopes to be a pilot in the Air Force, but the ultimate goal, he said, is to be in his early 40s as a commercial pilot.

Last week, Sankey was undergoing a cross-country flight training exercise and made a pit stop in Andalusia. When he landed the plane a group of 15 to 20 of his closest family and friends were waiting cheering for him on the runway.

“I was definitely surprised,” Sankey said. “I didn’t expect everybody in the community to be out there. I thought it was just going to be my mom and a couple of people. I had been telling her that whenever I get the chance during my cross country training that I was going to fly home and she was very excited.”