In tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, 15-year-old Kimberly Anyadike (on-ya-DEE-kay) made history by piloting a single-engine, red-tail airplane from Compton, Calif., to Newport News, Va., and then back to Compton.
She is believed to be the youngest African American female to pilot an airplane trancontinentally. Anyadike departed on June 29, 2009, with an estimated arrival date in Newport News of July 4. Anyadike was accompanied by safety pilot Ronell Norman as well as Tuskegee Airman Levi Thornhill (after whom the airplane was named). Said Thornhill, “I am honored to be an inspiration to this young mind and want to provide my expertise to help her accomplish her mission.”
The 10-day trip is sponsored by Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum (TAM), which provides scholarships and after-school programs for young aspiring pilots and at-risk youth. Anyadike has been a part of the program based at Compton Airport and has been flying since she was 12. During her journey, Anyadike visited with members of the East Coast chapter of TAM in hopes of inspiring and motivating fellow students by showing if she can do it, they can, too. Founder Robin Petgrave said, “We are proud that our program has enabled five kids to set 10 world records so far.”
Anyadike’s older sister, Kelly, set a world record in 2008 by being the youngest African American female to solo in four different fixed-wing aircraft on the same day (which just happened to be her 16th birthday). Both girls were inspired to dream big by the Tuskegee Airmen, the African American pilots who flew with distinction during World War II as the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Anyadike’s safety pilot is also a graduate of the TAM program and currently an airline pilot.
The trip was schedueld to have several stops, allowing Tuskegee Airmen across the country to autograph the airplane so that their spirits will always fly with the students. One important stop was in Washington, D.C., on July 7, where Anyadike and Thornhill were joined by Petgrave, actor John Schneider (Bo Duke from TV’s “The Dukes of Hazzard”), Emmy Award-winning actor Lou Gosset, Jr., reality TV’s Omarossa and many others. The group personally thanked California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Congresswoman Laura Richardson and the First Family for their help and support in obtaining Federal funding for TAM recently approved by President Obama.
Besides being named after Thornhill, the red-tail Anyadike flies is autographed by him, and a permanent placard is mounted in the cockpit to remind the students that when they fly, the Tuskegee Airmen fly with them. Through TAM’s flight program, Petgrave stresses the importance of history, heritage and legacy by educating children about the Airmen. Each of TAM’s airfleet is named after, dedicated to and autographed by different living Tuskegee Airmen who often visit the TAM center.
In addition to aviation, TAM offers after-school educational programs, gang and drug intervention, life skills courses, safe havens and many other activities designed as an alternative to self-destructive behavior. TAM is noted for being the recipient of the unanimously passed U.S. Congressional Resolution 532 in recognition of the museum’s achievement and success in teaching aviation, engineering and flying to at-risk and economically disadvantaged students.
A fundraising gala celebrating Anyadike’s accomplishment will follow her flight, giving the public an opportunity to meet and greet heroes of the past, present and future, including keynote speaker Mae Jemison, NASA’s first African American female astronaut.
The star-studded event will include dinner and an auction with many items generously donated by celebrities and supporters. The gala will be held in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen at The Proud Bird in Los Angeles on July 25. The aviation-themed, WWII-inspired restaurant will provide the perfect setting for this special event.