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!
As for Jonathan’s modest take on the event: “Anybody can do it. It just takes a lot of hard work.”
I sat backseat as Jonathan flew a Robinson 44 back to Los Angeles from Canada. He piloted through mountains, around the Space Needle, along the Golden Gate Bridge and low over California’s coast. In Malibu, we hovered in a friend’s yard for an early-morning wake-up surprise. At the time, the young aviator preferred flying the Robinson to the Cessna: “Helicopters are cool. If you see something, you can just stop and look at it. In a plane, you’d have to make circles.” (Today, however, it’s evident that he has caught the speed bug: “Planes are cooler because they’re fast. Even cars pass helicopters.”)
Smooth and steady on the controls, Jonathan flew and navigated like a pro. Because of extensive media coverage, people recognized Jonathan at our fuel and overnight stops. I definitely had a hero-in-the-making as my pilot.
Two days and 1,000 miles later, we touched down at Compton with great fanfare, greeted by Jonathan’s friends and family, media, Compton Mayor Eric Perrodin and former Tuskegee Airmen. The Air Operations division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department arrived in a Black Hawk helicopter and, during a ceremony for Jonathan, presented him with a job application for future employment consideration. “It feels good,” was Jonathan’s typical unassuming brevity when addressing the crowd. “I’m a little tired, though.”
By now, Jonathan has caught up on his rest, is midway through freshman year in high school and is rarin’ to go. This March, he’ll take the written exam for his private-pilot license. The results remain valid for two years, and Jonathan is already planning to take his checkride on his sixteenth birthday, March 1, 2009. What’s after that? “I want to fly commercial,” answers Jonathan without missing a beat. “I’ll fly CRJs for a bit and then move on to the bigger planes like the 747.” Not bad for a little kid who dreams big, eh?
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