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Pine Bluff’s Grider Field Hosts Annual Black Pilots of America This Weekend

by Richard Ledbetter Special to The Commercial | May 27, 2023 at 2:45 a.m.
The Black Pilots of Amercia chapter that flew the furthest distance last year to participate in Operation Skyhook is the California Redtails including Rayvon Williams (left) Jarvis Delaine, Trevor Sewell, Eric Williams, Milton Ames and Rudy Melson. (Special to The Commercial/Richard Ledbetter)

Pine Bluff will see Black Pilots of America from across the country arrive on the tarmac of Pine Bluff Regional Airport Grider Field to celebrate "Operation Skyhook" this weekend.

Activities began Friday and will continue through Sunday as the pilots show off their flying skills with various competitions, and take youngsters on airplane rides.

Aviators from 18 chapters of the Black Pilots of America fly into Pine Bluff from all points of the compass to participate in a celebration of aviation and Black history in the skies.

The annual occasion includes numerous events designed for young and old alike. The weekend of family activities features pilot competency competitions such as today's formation flying and pylon races, and Sunday's balloon burst and spot landing trials.

One of the most exciting offerings of the weekend are daily youth airplane rides. From 3-5 p.m. at the end of each day's competitions, more than a dozen pilots volunteer free airplane rides to scores of young people. The inspirational flights are part of the Experimental Aircraft Association "Young Eagles" program.

Fred Lewis travels from Houston for the event and hopes to inspire youth.

"In addition to a chance to enjoy a personalized tour of the skies, children get to talk to and see firsthand the brotherhood of fliers who come to Pine Bluff once a year from across the nation," Lewis said. "We want to inspire young people about aviation which is what we find the airplanes always do. But even if they aren't meant for the skies, we want them to see what is possible and know they can do anything they set their minds to."

Before climbing aboard the single engine aircraft made available for the youngster's enjoyment, accompanying parents or guardians fill out and sign a liability waiver. Upon returning to solid ground, each child receives a "Young Eagles" certificate for framing.

Lewis shared a brief history of Operation Skyhook.

"This is our 26th year associated with Pine Bluff. Two gentlemen named Rufus Hunt and Horace Noble loved competing against one another in personal air races. Other Black aviators heard about what they were doing and wanted to participate in flying competitions, so while flying out of Yazoo, Miss., back in the early '90s, Hunt and Noble came up with the name 'Operation Skyhook.' Black Pilots of America Inc. was officially established in 1997," Lewis said.

Doug Hale, manager of Grider Field, said the event is a net positive for the city and county.

"Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission awarded the BPA a $10,000 event grant to help fund the special occasion," Hale said. "We are proud to be the host airport for something so important to our area. This event draws a lot of economic return for Pine Bluff and Jefferson County. We try to do our part in several ways including offering discounted fuel for the airplanes and pilots."

In addition to a sky full of aerial displays, the Grider Field Restaurant will be serving Southern fare from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. today and Sunday.

The schedule includes:


10 a.m. -- Pilot Proficiency Begins

2 p.m. -- Formation Begins

3-5 p.m. -- Free "Young Eagles" Airplane Rides (Rides will begin immediately following daily competition.)


10 a.m. -- Balloon Burst & Spot Landing Competition Begins

3-5 p.m. -- Free "Young Eagles" Airplane Rides (Rides will begin immediately following daily competition.)

The primary aim of the Black Pilots of America is:

1) To train youth to participate and advance in various types of employment within the field of aviation.

2) To stimulate and encourage broader job opportunities for underprivileged youth in all phases of aviation.

3) To encourage youth to enter the field of aviation and to remain in school by educating students with films and lectures regarding opportunities in the field of aviation.

4 )To organize and set up a school for such training.

5) To develop scholarships for youth who will partake in such training and development.

For more information regarding the Black Pilots of America, go to

  photo  "Golden Eagle 11", flown by Palmer Sullins Jr., takes to the clouds during the annual Black Pilots of America air show Friday at Grider Field. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
  photo  Vaughn Phipps preps his plane, nicknamed "Black Night 1", for takeoff from Grider Field during the annual Black Pilots of America air show Friday. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

Print Headline: Grider Field hosts annual aviation event


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