Ramone Hemphill

Gamal Williams | March 22nd, 2021


Ramone Hemphill

Ramone Hemphill

Flight (noun) – the action or process of flying through the air. For Ramone Hemphill, flying is a dream come true.

A 9-year licensed pilot and Charlotte, North Carolina native, Ramone now resides in Melbourne, Florida working as a Systems Engineer in Avionics. “The first interest I had in aviation was in high school. I was in this group called The Explorers Club, and I was looking into Air Traffic Control. I got to go to an air traffic control tower for the first time. That’s what got me geared up thinking about aviation in general. Fast forward, I ended up with a career spanning from aviation electronics (avionics) and flight controls, to flight test engineering. From that point, it was about getting a deeper understanding of aviation. The idea early on for me was that if I could obtain my pilot’s license, I could have a deeper operational understanding of it,” he says.

Ramone recognized the lack of African American representation in the aeronautics field. While African Americans are present at airports as baggage handlers, flight attendants, or security guards, they are vastly under-represented in the overall aviation community. Aeronautical engineering, air traffic control, aviation maintenance, all have low representation of African Americans, but none more than aircraft pilots. According to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than 3% of all commercial pilots in the US are African American. Ramone wants to change that.

Along with his wife, and Board of Directors, Brinkley Wright, and Richard Winchester, Ramone formed The 99th Squadron in Brevard County, Florida. The 99th Squadron, so named after the first African American fighter squadron, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, is a non-profit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between the aviation field and our community. According to their website, The99th.org, Ramone and his team “expose our youth to the vast opportunities of the aviation industry, starting with the most basic fundamentals of flight for middle school and high school students.”

The 99th offers a “free to students” 5-week curriculum, or “Flight Plan” as his website states, that involves 1-hour courses on Saturdays, with a 30-minute homework review every Wednesday to gauge student comprehension and potential topics of discussion. The 99th teaches students a wide range of fundamentals: Aerodynamic Principles, Instruments & Engines, Air Traffic Control, Decision Making, Charts, Navigation Systems, Aviation Weather, and Weather Services. At the end of the course, each student (along with a chaperone) gets to take to the air for a hands-on flight, allowing students to co-pilot and apply what they have been learning.

“I’ve had the most fun introducing aeronautics to people, specifically people that didn’t realize there are hundreds of airports, not just the big ones, but smaller ones. People don’t realize that ‘Hey, you can do this too. You can get your pilot’s license and here’s what that looks like,’” Ramone explained. “I have seen that people don’t see this as a tangible field. I had one student tell me they were thinking of being a flight attendant…but there are other things besides that. That tells me in their day-to-day, they are in an environment that is limiting their options. We don’t even limit the program to being a pilot, it just starts out with that because that is what the industry is centered around. But we expose them to all facets of aviation,” Ramone says.

Once the course is over, Ramone and his team encourage the students to stay involved in the aeronautical field. “Once they complete the program, my idea of the best way to keep them engaged is to keep them in the air. We may not be able to get them in the air every week or every month, but we encourage them to continue in the program through our Continuing Education initiative, where we take them on site visits. We’ll also collaborate with other local STEM initiatives, namely the General Chappie James, Jr. Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., the South Brevard County Task Force, and the Rising Star Leadership Development.”

Jason Webber was one of those students. The 17-year-old high school senior has always dreamt of being a pilot. “I love airports. When I found out about The 99th, I was excited about the opportunity. My first flight was a lot of fun. I was a little nervous at first, but then what we learned about the instruments and knowledge of the aircraft kicked in,” Jason says. When asked what he did immediately after, he laughed. “I posted a video of it to SnapChat! All my friends thought it was cool and asked how I got to do that.” His mother, Melody, enjoyed her flight as well. “I was a little nervous, but I loved seeing Jason so focused and excited. He has talked of joining the Air Force. Hopefully, this program will inspire him to keep going,” she says.

The 99th Squadron looks for the best in every child, regardless of past academic performance. “The whole point of this is to get the children to dig in a little deeper than what they are getting in school, and actually be able to apply what they are already learning in school to something that is tangible,” explains Ramone. “I’m a firm believer in that. We don’t exclude children because of their grades. A child’s poor performance could be because they haven’t found something that interests them. This could be it for them,” says Ramone.

The 2021 fundraising goal for the upcoming September class is $5,000 which would cover the five-week course and flights for ten students. If you would like to donate to The 99th Squadron, please visit their website.

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