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!
I joined Robin and Jonathan on their quest in Canada. Upon arrival, Jonathan passed two written tests, scoring in the 90s on both. “It can get confusing because the emergency procedures between a fixed-wing and helicopter are totally different,” said Robin. “To pass both exams on the same day is something else!”
Not to mention that Jonathan, who had just used his passport for the first time, had a few culture-shock distractions. “I can’t find a Taco Bell anywhere,” he lamented. “And, where are the cops? I’ve only seen two in Canada.” He giggled at Canadian accents with each use of “eh?!” and the novelty of replacing “point” with “decimal” when stating frequencies.
The young dreamer soloed in the fixed-wing aircraft first. At Pacific Flying Club (www.pacificflying.com) at Boundary Bay Airport in Delta (just outside of Vancouver), British Columbia, he flew a Cessna 152 alone. While Jonathan was in the air, Robin was a little bit tense on the ground: “I feel like a nervous hen! That kid worked his butt off, and here he is setting the world’s imagination on fire.”
Although Jonathan was supposed to do three patterns, he did four—a victory lap, Robin decided. Did he lose track while having too much fun? At the time, Jonathan couldn’t explain it. But looking back, he is thankful for the miscount: “After the trip, it was two months before I flew in a 152 again, so I’m glad I got the extra flying time in.”
Upon landing, the solo star was greeted by newscasters. How did it feel up there all alone? “I looked to the right and I didn’t see anyone and I was, like, cool!” smiled Jonathan. “No one was there to tell me how to land, so I did it my own way.”
The next stop of the day was Heli College at Langley Municipal Airport (www.heli-college.com), where only 2.5 hours after his Cessna 152 solo, Jonathan soloed in a Robinson 22. To fly alone, oil cases were loaded for additional weight. “You have to weigh 130 pounds to solo,” he explained. “I only weigh 90 or something.”
On the ground, the crowd of flight instructors and media fell silent in awe and nervousness as Jonathan hovered and flew a traffic pattern. “It was phenomenal. This kid was the sole manipulator of the controls,” said Robin. “His destiny was in his hands right then and there. I was looking at it, and I still don’t believe it. To solo both an aircraft and a helicopter is a tough order, but he did it. He’s an inspiration to everybody, not just African-Americans.”
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