Young Pilot Flies with History
Shari€ Wright | 7/23/2009, 12:04 a.m.
Unlike most teenagers, Kimberly Anyadike did not spend her summer vacation at the pool or in the malls, rather, the 15-year-old, participated in a program that deals with wind shear, touchdown zones and the center of gravity at an interactive aviation museum on the West Coast.
Anyadike, a student pilot at Tomorrow€s Aeronautical Museum [TAM] in Compton, Calif., said that her interest in aviation was piqued three years ago when she first learned about the innovative program that offers minority students hands-on flight instruction and an introduction to opportunities in the field of aviation.
After three years of working full-time for flight time, Anyadike made history as the youngest African American female to fly across country €" logging 7,000 miles €" from Compton to Newport News, Va., in 13 days. Although it was a solo flight for the enthusiastic teenager, she had the benefit of a legend in the cockpit behind her.
€I got a rush whenever I took off, with my hands on the controls and throttle. But, I loved seeing everything,€ Anyadike said. €When you€re on the ground you forget how beautiful the country is. I had to tell myself to soak in as much as possible.€
The thrill of flight isn€t lost on Robin Petgrave, the founder of Tomorrow€s Aeronautical Museum. The veteran pilot, who serves as a father-figure to many of his students, said his staff works with about 800 children beginning at age eight.
€We introduce them to realms they may not ever [have] experienced. The students are allowed to [participate] in certain activities and in turn, exchange those hours for flight lessons,€ Petgrave said.
When Anyadike initially approached Petgrave with the idea to fly across country, she had one request, if her wish was granted: that she dedicate her flight to the Tuskegee Airmen.
€I didn€t know anything about the Tuskegee Airmen until I got involved with [TAM]. I wasn€t taught about them in school. But, we have learned all about them and I was inspired,€ Anyadike said.
Petgrave said the program also teaches students the history of aviation with the hope of engendering an interest in the field. Students learn science, math, geography and about notables in aviation that include the Tuskegee Airman.
€I was taken aback when Kimberly came into my office with her proposal, but she was firm and I immediately started to think of what this could do,€ Petgrave said. €I want to continuously have the program work to uphold the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and Kimberly€s tribute would do that.€
Once the meeting had ended, Petgrave started to chart the course that would take Anyadike from her home state of California to Virginia and back. He also enlisted the help of Levi Thornhill, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen.
€I thought the idea was wonderful,€ Thornhill, 87, said. €I went to the museum because I€ve always wanted to ignite the desire and curiosity of kids. You have to emphasize the importance of education.€
Thornhill, a former Propeller Specialist and P-47 crew chief with the Tuskegee Airmen, said that he was honored to take part in the trip and to co-pilot a plane named in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Petgrave hopes to accomplish even more.
€My goal is to acquire enough planes to name one for every Tuskegee Airmen, so they will fly with us forever,€ he said.
Both Petgrave and Thornhill said they understand the impact history and aviation can have on young minds. Both men share a desire to spark the imagination of children. They said that they want to provide children with opportunities beyond what is offered in the schools. They would like to see more children take advantage of opportunities like the one afforded Anyadike.
€If you have something that excited you and [it€s made] available to you, you would do it,€ Thornhill said.
Anyadike departed from Compton Woodley Airport in Compton, Calif. on Mon., Jun. 29. She made stops in cities that included Austin, Texas, Philadelphia, Pa. and Newport News, Va. She also made a special stopover in the Washington, D.C. area at College Park Airport in College Park, Md., where she was greeted by more of the original Tuskegee Airmen, local chapter members of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc., Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) and cheering supporters.
€Things like this motivate young people and enable them to do well in so many other areas. Because they see Kimberly, they may be inspired to go for one of their own major goals,€ Richardson said.
Anyadike landed at Compton Woodley on Sat., July 11.