First Officer Robert Holmes

Director, Chicago Aviation Career Education Academy

Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals

Chicago, IL

My father used to travel quite a bit and I would always want to ride along to the airport with him because I had a fascination with airplanes. At the age of thirteen I attended an ACE Academy in Nashua, New Hampshire, which was a defining moment for me because until that time, it was something that I kind of thought about but didn’t really explore. The ACE Academy gave me an opportunity to talk to professionals and actually fly an airplane, and I really walked away being more solidified in my dreams. That was one of the first instances of me knowing that I wanted to become a pilot.

ACE Academy was started in 1989 by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with colleges and universities, and it was their way of saying “how do we promote an interest in aviation?” The program is for primarily high school students, anywhere between the ages of 13-18 years old. We really try to broaden their horizons through the Ace Academy, and each is unique in their own tailored program and what they do.

Initially coming into the industry I read that minorities made up two percent of the pilots, out of about 100,000 pilots in the country. I think diversity is essential to aviation; bringing in different cultures and ideas is just a smart way to do business. We find in the ACE Academies that some of these kids have never seen a Black pilot, or even more than that, have never been to an airport. So it’s about the exposure and opportunity to let kids know that this is possible and we’re here to help you.

Getting to know CBMA came from me actually trying to continue developing the ACE Academy in Chicago. I reached out to a gentleman who’s an air traffic controller out in Chicago because we usually take the kids to visit their facility, and he knew of CBMA. It seemed like a really good fit and something that I was interested in. We are relatively new in Chicago and are looking for ways to expand, so it’s a great opportunity to expose what we do, and get new people to help us with things that are outside of our normal profession. At the end of the day, getting the word out is so important because I believe that it’s about opportunity more than anything else.

Learn more about ACE Academy at OBAP.org.