By Angel Johnson
A 16-year-old Compton native is the youngest African American teen to fly across the United States. Isaiah Cooper began his 8,000-mile journey on July 5th and returned on July 20th.
Cooper learned to fly in an aviation youth program at Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum. The program teaches at-risk youth to fly. He first attended the program at age five. When Cooper was 12 he started going through a hard time and dropped out.
Over the next three years, he began to hang out with the wrong crowd, his grades dropped and things weren’t going well. On Cooper’s 16th birthday, he talked to Robin Petgrave, founder of Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum, and he helped Cooper get his life back together.
Cooper said, "I wanted a better future for myself.” He didn’t want to become a statistic. Petgrave helped him clean up his act. “Petgrave told me that if I wanted to do the things that he does, I would have to work hard and leave all the bad stuff alone,” Cooper said.
Petgrave became Cooper’s mentor and flight instructor. The two began to train until it was time to fly across the country. Petgrave has also mentored Kimberly Andalike, who is believed to be the youngest African American female pilot.
Cooper and Petgrave departed from the museum. Cooper’s mom cried at his departure. She says she wants Cooper to call her every time he lands. Cooper and his mentor flew eight hours a day across the United States. Some parts of the flight were rough due to weather. A microburst cut their trip short when they were flying over Wyoming. A microburst is a strong wind that pushed the plane down and forced them to do an emergency landing.
Petgrave was proud of Cooper because he knew exactly what to do during the weather emergency. Cooper was able to land the plane without damaging any homes or buildings.
Next, Cooper plans to go to college, and when he is 18 he wants to be the youngest pilot to fly across the world. Currently the youngest pilot to fly across the world is 19-year-old Matt Guthmiller from South Dakota.