Fulfilling a Legacy of Opportunity
Senior Member, Air Force Major, Launches Nonprofit Flight Academy
By Russell Slater
U.S. Air Force Maj. Kenyatta Ruffin, a senior member in Civil Air Patrol’s Texas Wing and former CAP cadet, is making a positive impact in young lives through his nonprofit organization, Legacy Flight Academy (LFA). LFA conducts character-based youth aviation programs with the stated mission “to uphold and sustain the legacy of the heroic Tuskegee Airmen while encouraging youth to pursue aerospace and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.”
A qualified F-16 pilot, Ruffin hopes to pass along his love of flying to those who are just discovering theirs.
Born to Fly
Ruffin, who recently graduated from the U.S. Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies, is an airpower strategist in the Pentagon. The married father of five previously served as a T-38C instructor pilot with the 469th Flying Training Squadron at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.
He began flying at 13 with dreams of becoming an astronaut. At 18, two years before obtaining his driver’s license, he became one of the nation’s youngest Federal Aviation Administration-certified flight instructors for gliders.
Ruffin’s involvement with CAP began in the fall of 1997, when he became a cadet in the Illinois Wing’s Fox Valley Composite Squadron. He served as the unit’s deputy cadet commander and was also a member of the wing’s inaugural cadet color guard team. The team competed in regional competition, and Ruffin was later selected to participate in national competition as a representative of the Great Lakes Region.
He went on to attend the Air Force Academy, graduating in 2003 and earning a commission as well as a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering. He has deployed in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in addition to being assigned to units across the U.S. as well as South Korea and Japan, accumulating over 2,500 flight hours along the way.
“As a cadet at the Air Force Academy and simultaneously still a CAP cadet, I twice taught at the Illinois Wing glider encampment in Mattoon, Illinois, in the summers of 2001 and 2002,” Ruffin said. “This experience was definitely rewarding and exciting and can be seen as a precursor to my efforts at starting the Legacy Flight Academy.
“CAP provided a foundation for my Air Force training that definitely helped me initially excel and adapt,” he said. “I was named my flight’s basic cadet training honor graduate, and the preparation I had from CAP helped in that.”
With a desire to provide opportunities for youth, and inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen – the elite group of African-American aviators who led the way in racial equality and integration in the military during World War II – Ruffin launched the Legacy Flight Academy in 2012. Although incorporated in Illinois, LFA operates primarily at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama, the original training location of the Tuskegee Airmen.
“Our students literally walk in their footsteps,” Ruffin said.
LFA has conducted three summer programs, all at Moton Field, as well as numerous one-day events in their community outreach program called Eyes Above the Horizon (EAH). Most recently, members of the Alabama Wing participated in an EAH program in Mobile, where LFA provided over 90 youth the opportunity to fly, even briefly taking the controls themselves.
“We intend to continue traveling with the Eyes Above the Horizon program, and hope to partner with CAP to conduct programs at different locations nationwide,” Ruffin said.
Ruffin wants to instill the character traits of the Tuskegee Airmen in his students — courage, commitment and sacrifice — while also teaching them an appreciation for the heritage these men established.
“I started because I basically wanted to replicate my experience growing up, and ‘pay it forward,’” Ruffin said. “I clearly understand the critical importance of having support and mentors as a youth if you are to succeed in achieving your goals.”
Through LFA’s three-tiered program, about 50 students have graduated from the two-week summer character development and flight program (Double Victory). Since spring 2015 EAH programs have been held in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and Nevada, inspiring nearly 500 youth with the thrill of flight.
The programs have reached over 25,000 with their P-A-R (Passion-Attitude-Responsibility) Motivations public engagement efforts, and they continue to fulfill its vision to ensure that the Tuskegee Airmen legacy not merely survives, but that it thrives.
Air Force Col. Jamar “Jay” Scott, a West Point graduate and current individual mobilization augmentee to the commander, Air Force District of Washington, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, can attest to the value of LFA.
“My family thoroughly enjoyed our experience with the Legacy Flight Academy’s Eyes Above the Horizon program,” Scott said. “We attended an event at Tuskegee, and it was amazing to see the merging of the aviation experience with the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.
“The most profound interactions were between the mentors and children. That connection, between the military and civilian aviators and several young attendees, made the possibility of becoming an aviation professional very real to them. LFA's continued efforts are essential to ensuring our country can access its entire talent base for civilian and military aviators.”
Air Force 2nd Lt. Timothy Hill, a student pilot in the Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training program, was a member of the inaugural class of LFA in 2012 and found it to be an amazing experience. “The opportunity offered an insight into the location and the history behind the Tuskegee Airmen,” Hill said. “We were given the opportunity to fly from the same airfields and visit the original air base, along with getting the rare chance to meet some of the Airmen personally.”
In addition to the history, the high-level ground school and flight training from experienced flight instructors, both military and civilian, helped provide a wealth of knowledge to be carried onward.
“This program directly helped give me the motivation and the necessary skills and knowledge base to follow in the footsteps of the Tuskegee Airmen and compete amongst the best and brightest the nation has to offer to become a military aviator,” Hill said.
Opportunity and Challenge
Ruffin credits his early Civil Air Patrol experience with helping guide his future career choices.
“CAP was one of the first places where I had the opportunity to practice leadership, and peer leadership at that,” he said.
“There were definitely challenges I faced there, and reflecting on it now, it was both this opportunity and challenge to make a difference in both the lives of individual people and in an organizational/team mission that ultimately led me to change my career goal from being an astronaut to being truly passionate about being an Air Force leader.”
As a nonprofit volunteer organization, LFA always welcomes contributions of time and money.
“The per-student expenditure for our Double Victory summer program is $7,500, but we only charge a tuition of $332 because we emphasize the legacy and do not want money to be an obstacle,” Ruffin said.
Those interested in supporting LFA can help by visiting Amazon Smile and selecting “Legacy Flight Academy” as the charity or by visiting the LFA website to make a tax-deductible contribution and learn more about their efforts.