Sixteen-year-old Isaiah Cooper recently made history by becoming the youngest African American to pilot a plane around the continental United States.

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Sixteen-year-old Isaiah Cooper, the youngest African American to pilot a plane around the continental United States. (Photo/GoFundMe.com)

The Compton, Calif., teen recently completed his 8,000 mile trip after traveling for 13 days, but the accomplishment was not without difficulty, according to KABC, the Los Angeles ABC affiliate. Cooper, who was accompanied by his flight instructor, experienced some treacherous weather over Wyoming that damaged his plane and forced him to land and switch aircraft.

“He was able to execute the emergency procedures flawlessly, got it on the road, landed, didn’t damage the houses, the schools, the construction crew, nothing. I mean, he got out of that thing safely,” flight instructor Robin Petgrave told the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles.

Cooper doesn’t plan to rest on his laurels—he wants to continue to chase history, becoming the youngest pilot to fly solo across the world when he turns 18. The GoFundMe page for his trip explains his motivation for pursuing his aviation dreams.

“I began attending an aviation youth program in Compton at Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum (TAM) when I was 5 years old,” he wrote. “But as I got older, I began hanging with the wrong crowd, doing seriously self-destructive things.  Realizing that this was not how I wanted to live my life, I returned to TAM.  My main goal is to become a productive young man with a future in aviation, and not a statistic.”

Cooper follows in the footsteps of other Black aviation pioneers.

According to the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine, Emory Conrad Malick, who studied at the Curtiss Aviation School on North Island, San Diego, was the first known African-American pilot, receiving his pilot’s license in March 1912.

In 1922, aviator Bessie Coleman became the first African-American woman to stage a public flight in America, according to Biography.com.

Like Cooper, Barrington Irving defied his upbringing surrounded by crime, poverty and underperforming schools in Miami’s inner-city to become the then-youngest person and first African American to fly solo around the world on June 27, 2007, at the age of 23.

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO