The Air Up There Podcast
Aerospace Pathways: Luke Weathers Jr. Flight Academy

Season 6, Episode 9

From being a first-generation college student to becoming a pilot and certified flight instructor, Zakiya Percy, navigated uncharted territories, propelling herself on an incredible aerospace journey.

In this episode, Zakiya shares what inspired her to become a pilot, and sheds light on the sacrifices and challenges she encountered along the way. She tells the story of how an inquiry to revive an inactive Organization of Black Aviation Professional’s (OBAP) collegiate chapter quickly elevated her to the position of president. This leadership role eventually led her to OBAP’s Luke Weathers Jr. Flight Academy where her journey towards becoming a pilot took flight.

Tune in to hear Zakiya candidly detail her unique experience as an aspiring woman pilot of color, reflect on her first flight, and provide advice to those who are interested in aerospace.

Share this episode with someone curious about aerospace or simply seeking encouragement for their own pathway from high school to a career – this story of resilience and commitment resonates with all. 

See the FAA’s list of joint programs, like OBAP, for young people interested in getting started in aviation.

Meet Our Guest:
Zakiya Percy serves as Lead Certified Flight Instructor at the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, Luke Weathers Flight Academy. She holds several leadership positions in various organizations including Women in Aviation and Sisters of the Skies. Zakiya holds a bachelor of science in aviation technology and a master of science in transportation engineering systems and technology from Texas Southern University. She is currently pursuing her doctorates degree in Computational Data Science Engineering at North Carolina A&T University. 

Disclaimer: Reference in this podcast to any specific commercial product, process, service, manufacturer, company, or trademark does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the U.S. government, Department of Transportation, or Federal Aviation Administration. As an agency of the U.S. government, the FAA cannot endorse or appear to endorse any specific product or service.

The Air Up There: Aerospace Pathways: Luke Weathers Jr. Flight Academy
Aerospace Pathways: Luke Weathers Jr. Flight Academy
Audio file

Zakiya Percy: When I originally came to Luke Weathers, I was surrounded by professional people of color that are literally geared towards helping take you from not knowing anything about becoming a pilot to wanting to be more than just a pilot. You want to be an aviator. I’ve been shaped more than I ever thought I could being at Luke Weathers Flight Academy. 

DaiJah Metoyer: That’s Zakiya Percy, a pilot and Certified Flight Instructor at Luke Weathers Flight Academy in Memphis, Tennessee. And she’s our guest. We’re your hosts. I’m DaiJah Metoyer.

Lucy Jabbour: And I’m Lucy Jabbour – and this is The Air Up There!

Various People: This is your captain speaking. The feeling I get when I’m flying is just; you get an adrenaline rush. Seeing something fly is awesome. It’s incredible to be able to fly. Flying airplanes is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I get so excited about aviation, aeronautics, space, engineering, and tech. Like star gazing and just wondering what it would be like to be up there. I just fell in love with it. Stick with your passion and pursue it. Just know you can do it. There is not a room, there is not a cockpit, there is not a place that you don’t belong. There’s certainly a place for everybody in aerospace.

Lucy Jabbour: In this episode, we’re highlighting the Luke Weathers Jr. Flight Academy, which was established by the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals.

DaiJah Metoyer: This academy is named in honor of Memphis, Tennessee's first African American air traffic controller for the FAA - Lieutenant Colonel Luke Weathers Jr.

Lucy Jabbour: Before his career as an air traffic controller, Lieutenant Colonel Weathers served in the Air Force as a combat fighter pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, the first African American military aviators in the U.S.

DaiJah Metoyer: When was the moment that you figured out, you wanted to become a pilot? 

Zakiya Percy: Actually, when I flew with my very first female pilot. So, she wasn't a female pilot of color, but that was the very first female pilot I'd ever seen. And she got on the plane. And I was like, I want to say something to her, but I don't really know what to say. What do you say to a pilot? So, I just didn't say anything. And when we got to Oakland, we actually had to do a holding pattern. But whenever we landed, she came out with the first officer and she just wished everybody well. She actually got so many negative comments just from the male passengers. The flight was amazing. But they made comments like, you got lost, didn't you? Or is this your first time coming to Oakland or, you know, whatever. And at that very moment, I knew that it was going to be a journey, but it was definitely something I could do. I don't remember her name. I don't remember which airline it was but she will always be one of my first inspirations. 

Lucy Jabbour:  Zakiya, tell us about your experience with OBAP. 

Zakiya Percy: Absolutely!

Lucy Jabbour: For people who are unfamiliar, this is the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals.  

Zakiya Percy: When I came to Texas Southern originally, OBAP, Women in Aviation, and AAAE, which is another aviation organization for airport executives, they were dormant at that time. The collegiate chapters have to abide by whatever the rule is for that national organization, and typically it’s at least five active members in order for it to be active. I got in contact with the president of OBAP at this time. And I was like, hey, how do I get the organization back active? And I ran into two guys that were currently at the school and they were veterans. So, we kind of sat down and we had a conversation, and they were like, well, I think you should be the president of the organization. I said, I don't know too much about it, I think not but I think I'll definitely help. They end up voting me in and as president. So, OBAP, it was time for the National Conference. So, I came to the conference and it was in LA. It felt like I was seeing like aviation celebrities because by then I start following the black female pilots on Instagram and black female pilot hashtag. 

Lucy Jabbour: Cool. 

Zakiya Percy: So, I'm like seeing all of these people and it's, it's amazing, like everybody is there to help. So that's originally how I learned about, through that conference. I learned about Luke weathers Flight Academy in Memphis. One of the mentors on the aviation advisory board is Captain Lou Freeman, who's the first line check airman for Southwest. But he pulled me to the side on one of the meetings and he said, Zakiya, you're one of the only collegiate presidents that I see come to the meetings. So, what do you want to do when you leave here? And I said, I want to go to Luke Weather’s Flight Academy. Directly after graduation, I moved to Memphis. 

Lucy Jabbour: What is your experience with Luke Weathers? What is something that stands out to you about that school?

Zakiya Percy: When I originally came to Luke Weathers, I was surrounded by professional people of color, that are literally geared towards helping take you from not knowing anything about becoming a pilot to wanting to be more than just a pilot. You want to be an aviator. I've been shaped more than I ever thought I could, being at Luke Weather's Flight Academy. I did start off as a student and I was paying out of pocket, but once I got my private I became what is known as a Flight Ops Specialist and that was the first time that they had that position available. I became what is known as a scholarship, baby. So, I did get funded for the work that I was doing at the academy and I ultimately paid for all of my flight training, besides the original $7,000 from scholarships. With OBAP and Luke Weather’s Flight Academy, it's a great opportunity. It's high emphasis on making sure that everyone feels welcome. It’s not just for students of color. It's a very high emphasis on safety and professionalism and growing as an aviator, and you have multiple different mentors that have a big piece in that.

Lucy Jabbour: You were inspired, you’ve gone down this path. What is your favorite thing about flying, you know, how it feels to you? Like what is that like it?

Zakiya Percy: It's a little bit difficult to explain, but I have to share something else. My oldest sister, she passed away to cancer when she was 16 and it was a very devastating time for our family. The first time that I flew, I just felt so much closer to her and I felt like she was motivating me and I felt like she was inspiring me. So, when I first flew, at first, I was a little scared. It was like, I'm really doing this, that was the very first thought that I had, like, I'm really doing this. This is crazy. Am I crazy for this? And then we got over the water and that's when I start to feel like this feels amazing. And I don't think anybody can forget that. 

Lucy Jabbour: I'm sorry for your loss too that. I'm sure that was really hard. But the way you just described just being close to her in a plane is, like probably the most beautiful thing I think I've ever heard. 

Zakiya Percy: Yeah, it’s just... yeah. 

DaiJah Metoyer: While pursuing your dreams in the aerospace industry, what would you say your greatest challenge was?  

Zakiya Percy: One of my greatest challenges was actually being a first-generation college student. It’s like everything that you want to do is unchartered territory. And you want to be as brave as possible. You want to be courageous, but it's difficult. It's a very difficult thing to face and I had no idea like no idea what to do in college, I had no idea how to actually get through that phase. And that was something that the airlines, they definitely want you to have a college degree. And I was there by myself. I had worked three jobs, sometimes four. I worked 18 hours a day for about two years, just to send myself to school because it wasn't something that was necessarily supported financially. This, my parents, it exceeded their limitation. That was one of my greatest challenges before I could even pursue aviation was being a first-generation college student and actually finding the resilience in yourself. Finding the motivation every single day to get up and do something that seems literally impossible. 

DaiJah Metoyer: As a woman of color working in this industry? What kind of challenges do you experience with that?

Zakiya Percy: I think one of the first things is relatability. The very first flight school that I went to, of course, I was the only female and the only woman of color. When I very first walked into flight training for the airlines, of course, I was the only female and the only woman of color. There were a few of us in the building, and we would see each other and it's like this magical moment, like, hey. But as far as whenever you're in class, whenever you were with your sim partners, whenever you are in the deep moment of the curriculum, you're going to be by yourself, and you look left and right, and there's nobody to literally relate to you. 

Lucy Jabbour: What advice do you have for someone with an interest in aerospace? Who's like trying to figure out their career as somebody who went through all of these like insane widgets? 

Zakiya Percy: Really, really, really try to participate. There is multiple different opportunities for everyone to be involved with organizations like OBAP. So, there are the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, you have Women in Aviation International, you have Sisters of the Skies, just to name a few. Follow these organizations on social media. Figure out where they're going to be. If there is a career fair. If there is some sort of event that maybe you can participate in virtually. Also, try reaching out to some people on social media. Reach out to them. Ask for advice. Whatever you can kind of get your hands on just try to pursue that. 

National Air Grant Fellowship PSA: Are you pursuing a Masters or PhD in aerospace engineering? Or maybe you’re close to completing a post-graduate degree in a related field like aerospace physiology, human factors or software engineering. The FAA has a one-year, paid fellowship just for you in Washington, DC. The Samya Rose Stumo National Air Grant Fellowship is inspired by a 24-year-old international public health advocate who traveled the world with a purpose, to make it a better place.  
This Fellowship commemorates Samya and her fellow passengers whose lives were lost in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and those lost in the Lion Air Flight 610 accidents. As a fellow, you’ll be part of the aerospace public policy conversation and learn how aviation legislation and policy are developed by serving a Congressional committee or the FAA. Find out when to apply by going to faa dot gov and search air grant fellowship.

Lucy Jabbour: Thank you for listening! For more information about today’s guest, check out Subscribe, like, follow where ever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out on new episodes. Coming up, in the next episode of The Air Up There...

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