Retired Capt. Donnie L. Cochran, the first black member of the famed Blue Angels precision flying team, spoke at Albany High School and at Sherwood Acres Elementary Thursday. He was introduced at Sherwood by Jairus Bonner, a member of R.E.A.L.BoysR.E.A.L.Men, a motivational group for boys ages 8-12.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Retired Capt. Donnie L. Cochran, the first black pilot to fly with the Navy's famous Blue Angels, and later that group's commander, addressed students at Albany High School and Sherwood Acres Elementary School here Thursday.
Cochran, a Pelham native, said he accepted the invitation to speak because he wanted to make known to children that with goal-setting, followed by hard work and determination, almost anyone can achieve the things he or she wants in life. The retired Navy officer was introduced at Sherwood Acres by fifth-grader Jairus Bonner, selected by fellow members of the Sherwood group, R.E.AL.BoysR.E.A.L.Men, a motivational group for boys ages 8-12.
Through the lens of a back-facing camera, mounted in front of Cochran's face, youngsters were given a dramatic view of what he once did almost every day. As the commander spoke calmly to his team members, his audience watched the ground beneath him swirl and roll at speeds of up to 400 miles per hour. Judging from the scattered gasps within the group, the children were impressed.
After the video, attendees were encouraged to ask about Cochran's aviation career. The first question was whether he had been afraid during the aerial maneuvers he'd illustrated. Cochran said that while anyone simply thrown into such a situation might be afraid, he was not because he had been brought to that point of experience by diligent training and understanding of the limitations of both himself and his equipment.
In turn, Cochran answered questions about inverted (upside down) flying and the special fuel delivery system required to do so, the reasons for constant communication with team members, and the nature of ejection seats should trouble arise in flight.
Cochran told the group they should expect setbacks in life and to use them to their advantage. As an example, the flier cited his failing the seventh grade.
"That was one of the best things that could ever have happened to me," Cochran said. "It gave me the resolve to do better from then on."
Cochran shared with the audience what he referred to as his "strangest secret," which is, he said, "We all become what we think about most of the time -- so we should be thinking most about what we want to do in our futures."
Cochran became a member of the Blue Angels in 1985 after having flown more than 2000 hours in jet fighters and completing 469 carrier landings. In this initial assignment he remained with the squadron for three years. In 1994 Cochran replaced Robert E. Stumpf as commanding officer of the Blue Angels group, when Stumpf was grounded as a result of the "tailhook" scandal.
In 1995 Cochran removed himself from the responsibility of squadron commander under circumstances some considered "mysterious," grounding himself and canceling a performance, citing "loss of confidence" and what he called "flaws in his flying."