Inglewood Resident, 14, Reaches For The Sky
became the youngest person to fly both a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft on the same day after traveling to Canada and passing that country's flight tests.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
He sounded more like a kid reciting a school report than someone who had just set several
world aviation records.
"I'm 14 and the trip was fun," he said. "You could see mountains and trees and stuff."
Jonathan Strickland may be the youngest person to ever fly solo in both a helicopter and airplane
on the same day, but the Inglewood resident already had the
bashful-pilot routine down pat.
Surrounded by dozens of relatives, television cameras and members of the fabled Tuskegee Airmen
on Saturday at the Compton Airport, where
he had just returned from Canada, Jonathan
shyly fielded questions about what it's like to be so young and have accomplished so much.
"What were you thinking about when you broke the records?"
"I wasn't," he replied. "I was just flying."
"Was it difficult?"
"Sorta. Kinda. Not really."
In addition to being the youngest person to fly
both types of aircraft, Jonathan is now the youngest black American to solo a helicopter and the youngest to fly a helicopter
on an international flight.
The previous record holder was 15 years old and also flew out of the Compton Airport.º
Growing up near Los Angeles
International Airport, Jonathan
had always been fascinated with aviation, something his parents always tried to encourage. They bought him flight simulation
games when he was barely out of diapers and regularly drove him to the airport in Compton, where he hooked up with Robin Petgrave,
the head of Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum, a nonprofit flight school that teaches kids how to fly. He's been flying since
he was 10.
"He's living proof to what this is about," Petgrave said. "To do both aircraft is a tough
order, but he did it. He's an inspiration to everybody, not just African-Americans."
Jonathan and Petgrave left Compton/Woodley Airport on June 22 in a Robinson R44 helicopter.
Stopping for gas several times, they arrived at Boundary Bay
Airport near Vancouver, British Columbia.
While Jonathan could fly alone in Canada,
where the minimum age is 14, he needed to be accompanied by Petgrave in the United
States, where solo pilots must be 16. But once he made it past the Washington state border,
he was able to fly by himself in a helicopter and a small Cessna after taking tests to prove his skill to Canadian authorities.
"They had to put weights in the helicopter because I didn't weigh enough," he said.
And even though he supervised the flight, Petgrave said Jonathan was in control for the whole
"I was watching him and I could not believe it," Petgrave said. "He was this little thing,
but it was like he had been flying for a hundred years. He was very professional. It wasn't the easiest trip. We had weather
issues. Oregon kicked our butt."
For aging members of the Tuskegee Airmen, watching Jonathan was like seeing themselves as
"It puffs you up," said Levi Thornhill, who became a pilot more than 40 years before Jonathan
was born. "He has a great, nurturing family. When you do that, you can excel. This is an example."
Jonathan, who was quickly embraced by his parents and three younger siblings on arrival, hopes
to become an Air Force test pilot when he grows up.
His father, John Strickland, said it's something his son always wanted to do. They just provide
the guidance and car rides and get out of the way.
"We just tell him to call before he goes up," his father said.
His great-grandmother, Ruth B. Jones, said all of the kids in the family have big plans.
"That one is going to be a doctor," she said. "That one is going to be a golfer."
She didn't know where Jonathan got his discipline, but she clutched her chest with pride as
his helicopter dipped its nose at the crowd seconds before landing.
"I don't even remember what I was doing when I was 14, but I know it wasn't about airplanes,"
said the 86-year-old Inglewood resident. "He's a determined
young man who always wanted to fly."
Jonathan seemed a little embarrassed by all the hoopla.
"Where are you going to go now?" one person asked.
"Home," came the reply.