Thursday, March 1, 2007
Learn To Fly: Solo At 14
A 14-year-old boy, trained in Compton, solos both a helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft!
If anyone thinks that they can’t do what they put their mind to, they should meet Jonathan Strickland. Like any typical teenager, his vocabulary gravitates toward words such as “yeah” and “cool.” But what sets him apart from the rest is quite extraordinary. Jonathan can’t drive a car yet, but he can fly both an airplane and a helicopter!
In June 2006, the 14-year-old carved a place in aviation history by soloing a Cessna 152 and a Robinson 22 on the same day. To accomplish this goal, he had to travel to Canada (where the age requirement is 14, as opposed to 16 in the United States). But Jonathan didn’t mind—“it’s just another excuse to fly,” he said of the 32-hour round-trip journey in a Robinson 44 from Southern California to British Columbia and back. The momentous trip earned him four world records: the youngest person to solo both a helicopter and airplane on the same day; the youngest African-American to solo a helicopter; the youngest African-American to fly a helicopter internationally; and the youngest African-American to fly a helicopter on an international round-trip.
Accompanying him was Robin Petgrave, an accomplished helicopter pilot, with more than 11,000 hours logged flying Hollywood stunts, sightseeing tours, flight training and ferry flights for his company, Celebrity Helicopters (www.celebheli.com). Robin also runs Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum (www.tamuseum.org), using proceeds from his other businesses as well as donations. The nonprofit organization at Compton/Woodley Airport in Los Angeles provides mentoring and outreach programs to motivate economically disadvantaged minority children.
At the museum, kids perform community service, such as cleaning planes and running an on-site cafe, in order to earn museum dollars that can then be used to purchase flight time. Children can start training as young as eight years old. “At an earlier age, they just catch onto it real quickly,” said Robin.
But the organization is far more than a flight school. By filling a void of after-school activities (there’s a computer lab with flight simulators) and offering positive role models (the Tuskegee Airmen serve as mentors), it helps keep youth off the streets and out of trouble. To remain in the program, participants must maintain good grades.
As a child, Jonathan lived near Los Angeles International Airport and enjoyed watching the air traffic, an interest that grew when his mother bought him a flight-simulator program. After seeing a television feature about two young boys, Jimmy Haywood and Kenny Roy, who trained at Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum and became two of the youngest pilots to solo, Jonathan was inspired to join the program. After more than two years of community service and maintaining B grades, he earned his dream trip.
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