WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – 1943 was a time of racial injustice in the U.S. and that didn’t exclude the military.
It didn’t stop Rip Gooch from pursuing his dream working in aviation. It just rerouted his flight plan.
In 1943, Rip knew he’d likely be drafted.
He also knew he wanted to try and fly for the military.
He figured he’d have a better chance at that if he enlisted rather than waiting on the draft.
So that’s what he did.
“When I finally heard there were Black aviators in the military, I took off and went to Tuskegee, Alabama to volunteer to join these guys because nobody I talked with of color had any interest in being up in the airplane,” remembers Rip Gooch.
He had no prior training, but Rip knew he wanted to learn to fly.
The list of applicants was long, and he had to pass a test in Memphis to qualify.
“As I walked in, he spoke loudly, ‘What do you want boy?'” recalls Rip. “I said I want to join the Air Corps and fly airplanes. And he started laughing, and he laughed until instead of feeling tall, I felt so short I couldn’t see over the counter to see him.”
Instead, Rip went to the draft board and said he’d like to volunteer and was interested in aviation.
The draft board moved up his name but never gave him credit for volunteering.
The military placed him in a newly formed aviation program that was a service unit.
It was a brand new military base in Greenvllle, Texas, Majors Army Airfield.
“My first military assignment before I had learned the order of the day was waiting tables for the white people who were learning to fly in the basic training program,” says Rip.
It wasn’t exactly what Rip had in mind.
After some time, he says he was promoted to fueling airplanes.
He did those jobs for a number of months, then made some noise to transfer out of Greenville.
“I might have told them where they could put their Army Air Corps Service Unit,” laughs Rip. “I don’t know what I told them, but yeah, I made noise.”
Now, Rip was part of the infantry.
His job was to relieve soldiers fighting on the front lines, but the war in Europe would end before he was needed.
Eventually, Rip learned to fly and was certified by Major Charles Anderson. The man responsible for training all pilots who came out of Tuskegee.
“Aviation was all I thought it would be, but the treatment opportunities was never like I would have thought it would be,” he reflects.
Rip’s love of aviation continued after the war when he later decided to start his own business that was headquartered in Wichita for 20 years.
Aero Services, Incorporated provided flight training, charter flying, aircraft rental and storage.
He even dabbled in politics, was elected to the Wichita City Council and several terms in the Kansas Senate.
But his heart was with aviation.
“Aviation made me more equal,” Rip says.
He also says he most loved his job as a designated pilot examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration.
He was certified by the FAA to test aspiring pilots.
“It wasn’t a matter of what color or what you had to go by somebody to make this, and a lot of people came to me,” says Rip.
Rip wrote a book about his life detailing his experiences in the military, politics and business.
It’s titled, “Black Horizons.”