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Breaking Barriers, Tracing History in the Sky

Donnie L. Cochran was 35 years old when he won the top Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) in 1989. To date, he is the youngest BEYA winner. The average age of the 29 BEYA winners is 54. See how the youngest rank below.

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Cochran was born July 6, 1954, on a farm near Pelham, Georgia. He earned
a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Savannah State College in
1976, where he was a member of the Naval Reserve Officers Training

The Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) Program educates
and trains qualified young men and women for service as commissioned
officers in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

After Cochran’s commission, he completed flight school and earned his Navy “Wings of Gold” in 1978.

Cochran was an excellent student pilot and got assigned to fly the
RF-8G Crusader. He made his first deployment flying RF-8G on board the
USS Nimitz to the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.

During this deployment, the Iranians took over the U.S. Embassy and the Nimitz was diverted to the Indian Ocean.

By the time Cochran completed his first deployment, he and VFP-63
Detachment 5 had gone around the world during a nine-month cruise.

Cochran’s first assignment after training in the F-14 was with the
Black lions of Fighter Squadron 21, where he made two deployments
onboard the USS Enterprise to the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

Cochran had flown over 2,000 hours and 469 carrier landings in fighter aircraft by the time his assignment with VF-213 ended.

In 1985, he was selected to fly with the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron or The Blue Angels.

‘The Blue Angels’

The Blue Angels, the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, has aviators from the Navy and Marines.

Cochran flew with the Blue Angels for three seasons (1986-87-88).

During his three years as a demonstration pilot, Cochran flew over 1,500 hours and over 240 airshows.

In May 1996, Cochran made the decision to “step down as flight leader
due to team dynamics that affected his ability to effectively lead and
safely fly air show.

The Blue Angels team was formed in 1946,
making it the second oldest formal flying aerobatic team in the world,
after the French Patrouille de France formed in 1931.

The Blue Angels’ six demonstration pilots fly the F/A-18 Hornet,
typically in more than 70 shows at 34 locations throughout the United
States each year, where they still employ many of the same practices and
techniques used in their aerial displays in 1946.

An estimated 11 million spectators view the squadron during air shows each full year.

The Blue Angels also visit more than 50,000 people in a standard show season (March through November) in schools and hospitals.

Since 1946, the Blue Angels have flown for more than 260 million spectators.

On March 1st, 2013, the U.S. Navy announced that due to sequestration
actions aerial demonstration team performances including that of the
Blue Angels would cease from 1 April 2013.

In October 2013, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, stating that
“community and public outreach is a crucial Departmental activity”,
announced that the Blue Angels (along with the U.S. Air Force’s
Thunderbirds) would resume appearing at air shows starting in 2014,
although the number of flyovers will continue to be severely reduced.

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