Young Pilot Soars into Record Books

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- School is out and most children are enjoying their summer by a pool, at camp, or working a part-time job.

But a 15-year-old from Compton, Calif., is earning a place in the record books -- and honoring the men who first made it possible during World War II.

Kimberly Anyadike inspects her single-engine, Red Tail Cessna before every flight ... but the take-off from this Virginia airport is special.

It's the eighth day of her cross-country journey, and when she lands in Washington D.C., she lands a place in the record books -- as the youngest black female to fly coast to coast.

"I've been underestimated a lot since I am girl. There have been a lot of male instructors who will be like, just sit back and I will do this and I will be like no, watch me. I can do this, you know," Anyadike said.

The soft-spoken, 15-year-old learned to fly at age 12 as a student of Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum in Compton, Calif.     

It's a program Hollywood stunt pilot Robin Petgrave started 12 years ago to curb crime in Compton by giving kids wings to escape -- literally.   

"It feels so great.  Like, the other day when we flew over Chesapeake, I was like, 'Wow!'  I was so overjoyed and I was like, 'Yay!'" Anyadike said.

Kimberly is over-joyed about making history and honoring it.

She dedicated her mission to America's first black military airmen -- the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

"I wanted to show the Tuskegee Airmen that someone still cares, that I admire them," she said.

Kimberly made 11 stops on the journey before landing here in Newport News, Va.  And with every stop, she meets a new round of Tuskegee Airmen. All of whom, stop to sign the plane before she takes off again.

In Newport News, Va., 89-year-old retired Chief Master Seargent Grant Williams adds his signature to the side of the Cessna 172.

"Oh, it is just a fabulous thing when you consider how far we have come.  Especially, when you reflect on what things were like when I was growing up and I was her age," Williams said.

Tuskegee airman Levi Thornhill, 86, has traveled with Kimberly for every mile of the trip.

"She has a wonderful family, which a lot of these kids that we are trying to reach don't have," Thornhill said.

Family adds fuel to Kimberly's mission.

Her 17-year-old sister, Kelly, is the youngest black woman to fly four planes in one day.

"When I set my record last year, she immediately wanted to do something after," Kelly said. "She was like, 'Don't worry Kelly, I am going to beat your record.'"

"Initially, the plan was that I was going to solo four planes and two helicopters in Canada because you can solo when you are 14 and around that time I was 14," Anyadike said.

But at 15  -- and 5-foot-3 -- that adventure was simply too small for the girl who believes the sky is no longer the limit.

Every take-off moves her closer to her dream of being a private pilot and cardiovascular surgeon.

*Originally published July 13, 2009

 

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