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Teen becomes youngest African American female to complete flight across U.S.

July 11, 2009 |  1:44 pm


A 15-year-old Los Angeles girl who navigated a single-engine Cessna through thunderstorms in Texas and took in breathtaking aerial views of Arizona’s sunsets — landed her plane to cheering crowds at Compton Woodley Airport today, becoming the youngest African American female pilot to fly solo across country.

Kimberly Anyadike took off from Compton 13 days ago with an adult safety pilot and Levi Thornhill, an 87-year-old who served with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. They flew to Newport News, Va., making about a dozen stops along the way.

Anyadike learned to fly a plane and helicopter when she was 12 with the Compton-based Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum, an after-school program that offers aviation lessons to at-risk youth and economically disadvantaged students. The organization owns the small plane.

She loved the feeling of streaking across the sky. She told her mom that it was like a wild ride at Magic Mountain.

Always up for a challenge, she came up with the idea to fly across the country a few months after learning to fly. Robin Petgrave, the aeronautical museum’s founder, warned that it would take a lot of preparation. “I told her it was going to be a daunting task,” he said, “but she just said, ‘Put it on. I got big shoulders.’ ”

Anyadike said she didn’t want to make the trip to set a record or become some kind of celebrity. “I wanted to inspire other kids to really believe in themselves,” she said. She also wanted to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, the U.S. Army Air Corps’ all-black combat unit who served during World War II.

“They left such a great legacy. I had big shoes to fill,” she said. “All they wanted to do was to be patriots for this country. They were told no, that they were stupid, that they didn’t have cognitive development to fly planes. They didn’t listen. They just did what they wanted to do.”Me.0711.Pilot.2

Anyadike’s Cessna and the other planes at Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum are painted with red tails, similar to the Tuskegee Airmen planes.

During her cross-country trip, Anyadike met about 50 Tuskegee Airmen who autographed the Cessna. “That way they can fly with us forever,” Petgrave said.

How will the young pilot celebrate? “By sleeping,” she said with a giggle. 

-- My-Thuan Tran


Photo: Kimberly Anyadike, 15, is greeted after landing Saturday at Compton's Woodley Airport. Credit: Tony Marshall

Photo: The Cessna aircraft piloted by 15-year-old Kimberly Anyadike arrives in Compton. Credit: Tony Marshall

Photo: Retired Major Levi Thornhill, 86, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, greets Kimberly Anyadike after arriving in Compton. Credit: Fontaine J. Marsi.