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Teen Pilot's Flight Puts Program in Spotlight

Black America Web.com, News Report, Jackie Jones Posted: Jul 16, 2009

Kimberly Anyadike wants to be a private pilot and a cardiovascular surgeon.

At 15, the Compton, California teen is halfway there. On Saturday, Anyadike set the record as the youngest black female to fly coast to coast.

She got her pilot license at 12 while a student at Tomorrows Aeronautical Museum in Compton, a program created by Hollywood stunt pilot Robin Petgrave to give young people lofty heights to aspire to.

I founded it in 98 and have been doing it full time since 2000, Petgrave told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "We have kids from eight to 18 and also a few over 18.

At any one time, Petgrave said, 30 to 120 children are at the museum, and more than 800 young people belong to the program.

Most, he said, find out about the program through word of mouth. We dont advertise because we would get inundated.

Petgrave said Anyadike is a driven aviation student, eager to sharpen her skills. He said the project began when she was reviewing FAA flight rules and regulations and misread a paragraph that she thought required her to fly cross country before getting her solo license.

Once the rules were explained, She asked, Why cant I do it? Petgrave said, noting that he explained how much training and expense was involved in such an undertaking.

And she said, So why cant I do it? And I told her, If youre willing to put in the work, you can do it. And she said, Lets go.

Once Anyadike decided to take on the cross-country challenge, she dedicated the trip to the Tuskegee Airmen, whom she said made it possible for black people to fly. At each stop she made in her single-engine, Red Tail Cessna, Anyadike met with a group of airmen who autographed her plane.

A graduate of the program and adult safety pilot instructed Anyadike and went up with her on her practice runs and accompanied her on the trip.

Anyadike also flew every mile of the trip with Tuskegee airman Levi Thornhill, 86. When Thornhill heard about her plan, according to Petgrave, he said This would be the thrill of my life.

"I wanted to show the Tuskegee Airmen that someone still cares, that I admire them," Anyadike told the Christian Broadcasting Network.

And Anyadike isnt the only high flyer in her family.

Her 17-year-old big sister, Kelly, is the youngest black woman to fly four planes in one day.

"When I set my record last year, she immediately wanted to do something after," Kelly Anyadike told CBN. "She was like, 'Don't worry, Kelly; I am going to beat your record.'"

"Initially, the plan was that I was going to solo four planes and two helicopters in Canada because you can solo when you are 14. and around that time, I was 14," Anyadike told CBN.

But at just 5-foot-3, Anyadike was considered too small for the feat, so she opted for the coast-to-coast trip.

We dont go after world records. Were not about that, Petgrave said. Basically, if a kid has a dream, we cultivate it, and it becomes a reality. The thing is we have 50 Kimberlys here who are capable of doing that.

Petgrave said he funds the program through his air charter business, Celebrity Helicopters, and donations through the museums Aviation Angels program (www.TAmuseum.org). Additionally, an earmark in last years federal budget secured federal funding to augment and support education programs at the museum.

The program has expanded to include an East Coast chapter in Newport News, Virginia one of Anyadikes stops on her trip.

Once you get involved in aviation at such a young age, it helps to make a lot of the things your mother, our parents tell you make sense, Petrgrave said. You learn how to talk, how to communicate, how to use math and science, all those things where you used to ask, 'When am I ever going to use this?' But if youre an aviator with a three-hour flight and two hours fuel, youll figure out how far you have to go before you stop to refuel.

When youre a kid, you come home, take your stuff off, throw it on the floor, play with your toys, drop them, maybe break them or you dont know where they are," he said. "Here, they learn if they break it, they cant fly it."

Related Articles:

Alameda County Pioneers Restorative Justice for Youth

60 Years Later, U.S. Honors Tuskegee Airmen

Helicopters, Cover-ups and War Crimes

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