Navy Summer Academy Notches Private Certificates For Three Students


Naval aviation is doing its part to spark interest in aviation among minorities. With only 2.3 percent African American Navy aviation officers, the Command, Naval Air Forces (CNAF) launched an eight-week summer program in which three candidates, Damon Benson, Ashton Burton and Michael Rodriguez, earned their private pilot certificates at Delaware State University in Dover.

Funds for the program come from the recently initiated Navy Junior ROTC scholarship program, specifically established to increase diversity in naval aviation, which is currently 88 percent white.

The program is operated in collaboration with aviation-rich universities throughout the country, with priority given to designated Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) such as Delaware State.

Starting with no previous flight experience, the three candidates received 35 hours of classroom aviation academics and more than 45 hours of day- and night-time flight training in a Vulcanair V.10 single-engine aircraft over the eight-week curriculum. They were also required to complete 17 hours of solo flying. 

Benson, Burton and Rodriguez were awarded their FAA certificates at an Aug. 12 graduation ceremony held at Delaware State. Navy Commander and NASA Astronaut Victor Glover addressed the ceremony.

In assessing the success of the program, Navy fighter pilot and instructor Commander Chris “Frozone” Williams, named Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, said, “These three students have what it takes to be leaders in the field of aviation, and the Navy is honored to play a part in their personal and professional journeys.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. Congratulations Gentlemen. Welcome to the world of aviation. I’ve enjoyed a rich and fulfilling aerospace career for 49 years and I wish the same for you all.

  2. I believe the average number of hours logged to acquire a ppl is somewhere in the neighborhood of 65 hours plus or minus. Just sayin.

    I never had a Navy commander, or, a NASA astronaut ceremoniously send me off into the wild blue yonder after receiving my ppl. Must be some new FAA requirement. Where’s the heavy iron? Here we come…

  3. Naval aviation is not about diversity, it’s about UNIFORMS and uniform rules that must be followed. The service is open to all so any distribution of skin color is only by chance and by individual choice. The more you have individual choice, the less we should care about racial outcomes.

    Why in this day an age are we still counting people based on their skin color? We are individuals.

  4. My, my, aren’t we threatened. Back in the 40’s and 50’s the Navy used to sponsor the Model Aviation NATS (or what it was called back then). Lots of photos of smiling winners and participants, most of them not Navy, but some were, but of course, all white. I guess for you AWOGs, that is the real issue.
    I guess I am simply happy that we have three new entry-level pilots who might go on to serve our country and that our armed services are making some modest efforts to have their ranks better reflect the composition of our great country.

    • As said, people are individuals and the services are wide open. Free will drives who applies and talent drives who qualifies. What’s funny are people working so hard to fight free will and free choice because they can’t get past putting people into little organized boxes.

  5. @Stu Pid. Training at aviation colleges and other programs is different than at your local flight school. For example we used to fly two times a day for weeks at a time. So the plateaus were brief and skills didn’t atrophy. You’re basically in a system of intense ground and flight training which makes it easier to do it closer to the 40 hours. No participation trophies here under such a rigorous program. Hope this helps.