Lewis University Flight Instructor and 2010 Alumnus Leif Holmstrand recently returned from launching the aviation dreams of 15 high school students enrolled in the Legacy Flight Academy in Tuskegee, Ala. The two-week character development and flight training program was held at Moton Field, Ala., the initial flight training location for the Tuskegee Airman—an elite group of African American pilots serving in the Armed Forces in the 1940s.
“Of the 12 volunteer flight and ground instructors, Leif was one of the most influential to the program. He was committed to helping a student to do his first solo flight. He was the only student that was able to complete solo flight during the program. Lewis University prepared him well,” said Kenyatta Ruffin, director of Legacy Flight Academy and U.S. Air Force F-16 Pilot.
“Lewis University propelled both of us in our passion for aviation,” Ruffin mentioned when speaking of Holmstrand. Coincidently, Ruffin acquired his own passion for flying at Lewis University while attending an Aviation Careers Education (ACE) camp. The Lewis University, Organization of Black Pilots, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sponsored experience is similar to the Legacy Flight Academy. Both camps address the underrepresentation of African American pilots in aviation. According to the Legacy Flight Academy, African- Americans represent less than 2 percent of pilots in the military and commercial airlines.
“It was an awesome experience, everyone worked as a team for the benefit of something greater than themselves,” Holmstrand said of the Legacy Flight Academy. He said teaching the younger students reignited his own passion for flying. The future Air Force Combat Systems Officer said, “The students’ motivation and energy was inspirational.”
Holmstrand was also honored to become part of the legacy of the Tuskegee Airman. He plans on joining the Chicago chapter of Tuskeegee Airman, Inc., which is one of the academy’s sponsors. He described a newly discovered empathy for the trailblazers after flying on the airstrip they trained on, visiting the remains of their barracks (among other historical sites), and lodging at the nearby Tuskegee University. He repeated a new mantra he learned and saw embodied by all at the academy, “Don’t let anyone tell you, ‘You can’t do it.’”
More information about the Legacy Flight Academy is available at legacyflightacademy.org.
Providing aviation career opportunities in flight management, administration, maintenance, security and air traffic control, Lewis University offers the oldest aviation program among universities in Illinois. It is the only university aviation program in Illinois with an airport on campus. Lewis University is one of 36 institutions in the country certified by the FAA to offer the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative Program.
Lewis University is a Catholic university offering distinctive undergraduate and graduate programs to nearly 6,500 traditional and adult students. Lewis offers multiple campus locations, online degree programs, and a variety of formats that provide accessibility and convenience to a growing student population. Sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis prepares intellectually engaged, ethically grounded, globally connected, and socially responsible graduates. The ninth largest private not-for-profit university in Illinois, Lewis has been nationally recognized by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report.
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