Young, Gifted and Black Series
By Taki S. Raton
He has been flying since he was 8-years-old. His interest in aviation began from the cradle before he was able to say the word “plane”. As a child, he lived near Los Angeles International Airport and enjoyed watching the air traffic. According to his biography, he would often point to the jets in the sky that were headed towards LAX.
At the age of nine months, this magnificent and accomplished aviator-to-be accompanied his paternal grandmother Nana on his first commercial airplane flight to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It is noted from that experience and with many flights thereafter, the crew would allow him to visit the cockpit to take pictures and even sit in the captain’s seat.
At the age of eight, reveals Marc C. Lee in the April 6, 2010 edition of “Plane & Pilot,” he has been flying since he was eight. A pilot friend who flew for Delta took him for a ride in a Cessna 182 and this 8-year-old was “hooked”. He continued to fly the 182 with his friend “whenever he could” writes Lee.
He is Young, he is Gifted, and he is Black. Sixteen years later, Jonathan Strickland would earn his United Statesvalidated student solo pilot certificate and on March 15, 2008, he would become the youngest Black pilot to solo six fixed-wing airplanes and one helicopter.
As chronicled by Bill Cox in the September 1, 2008 “Plane & Pilot,” Jonathan respectively soloed a Robinson R44 helicopter, a Cessna 172RG, a new glass-panel Cessna 172 SP, a Piper Warrior, a Sting Sport LSA and a Remos LSA – all within six hours.
At this then youthful age of 16, Strickland established two new world records that Saturday at L.A.’s Compton Woodley Airport. He would become the youngest African American male to solo six different airplanes and a second record for soloing six airplanes plus one helicopter – all on the same day.
This feat, however, actually earned him the two world records that would be added on top of the four that he earned two years earlier. Writes Jessica Ambats in Plane & Pilot, March 1, 2007, Strickland at 14, carved his name in aviation history in 2006 by soloing a Cessna and a helicopter on the same day. But to accomplish this goal, he had to travel to Canada where the solo flight age requirement is 14 as opposed to 16 in the United States.
“But Jonathan didn’t mind,” writes Ambats. “It’s just another excuse to fly,” as quoted on his reflections of the 32- hour round trip journey in a Robinson 44 from Southern California to British Columbia and back.
Understandably, Jonathan had to first prove to Canadian instructors that he possessed the skills and knowledge to solo an aircraft. On Thursday, June 29, he passed both the physical requirement as well as several qualifying written exams. He first soloed in a Cessna-152 at the Pacific Flying Club at Delta, British Columbia’s Boundary Bay Airport where he scored in the 90 percentile. He then traveled twenty minutes to Heli-College Canada Training Center at Langley Airport where he made a solo flight in a Robinson R22, marking a 92 percent rating.
This spectacular unprecedented trip came to a successful ending two days and an estimated 1,000 miles later when he landed at Compton Woodley Airport on July 1, 2006 earning him four world records: the youngest person to solo both a helicopter and airplane on the same day; the youngest African American to solo a helicopter; the youngest African American to fly a helicopter internationally, and the youngest African American to fly a helicopter on an international round-trip.
As cited in published accounts, he was greeted upon his return by family members, classmates, friends, members of the Tuskegee Airman, the Lost Angeles Fire Department Air Operations Division, Compton City Mayor Eric Perrodin, Compton Council members, notable city and county supervisors and representatives, members of the press and writers from Plane & Pilot Magazine.
Jonathan received numerous awards and commendations from President George W. Bush, the Los Angeles Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, the City of Inglewood, the City of Compton, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald of California, the Los Angeles Fire Department Air Operations, the Harbor Chapter Links Incorporated, Milwaukee Academy of Aviation, Science & Technology, the Organization of Black Airline Pilots, Boeing, United States Air Force Academy, and Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University.
He has been featured in such local and national publications as Plane & Pilot Magazine, The Pilot Journal, Jet Magazine and Essence Magazine. He was also a guest on the Montel Williams Show.
Accompanying Jonathan on his world record international flight was Robin Petgrave, an accomplished helicopter pilot with more than 11,000 hours logged in flying Hollywood stunts, sightseeing tours, flight training and ferry flight for his company, Celebrity Helicopters.
Fifteen years ago in 1997, Petgrave founded the Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum (TAM) which provides aviation-themed after school programs for more than 800 children in elementary, middle and high school. The mission of TAM is to encourage youth involvement in aviation as an alternative to drugs, gang violence and other self-destructive behavior. The program requires that students maintain above average grades and stay clean from trouble. TAM offers the opportunity to work one-on-one with qualified tutors, mentors and aviation staff five days per week.
Petgrave attributes his TAM passion to his association with the Tuskegee Airman, a group of nearly 1,000 Black pilots recruited by the Army during World War II to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen flew 15,533 combat missions between May 1943 and June 1945 which included over 700 bomber escorts. This esteem and courageous group of Black aviators would end the war as the only fighter group to never lose an escorted bomber to enemy fighters.
He says that TAM is committed to keeping the legacy of the Tuskegee Airman alive and that through its flight training program, “anything is possible for these kids. We’re not limited by color.” To further cultivate the Tuskegee inspiration, Petgrave joins members of the Los Angeles chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen in programs that schedules regular appearances at area schools.
Jonathan was a signature student of the TAM training. In 2009 at the age of 17, he had earned his instrument rating and was introduced to aerobatic flight in a T-34. He additionally flew a Cessna 172R from Lost Angeles, California to Atlanta, Georgia.
Last year in 2010, he earned his Commercial Pilot’s Certificate on his 18th birthday, March 1. He earned his rating as a certified flight instructor and qualified to pilot a multi-engine commercial plane. Majoring in Aviation Business Administration, Jonathan started college that fall at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Long Beach, California His projection at year’s end was to total 600 to 900 hours of flight time.
He began his training in a Learjet during the summer of 2011. His goal upon completion of the required preparation at the age of 21 in 2013 is to pilot an around the world flight in a Lear aircraft.
As of 2008, TAM’s exemplar breed of young pilots had already set ten (10) world records to include 16-yearold Kimberly Anyadike who made history by piloting a single-engine red-tail four-seater Cessna 172 airplane from Compton, California to Newport News, Virginia and back and her sister, Kelly, who became the youngest Black female to solo in four different aircraft on the same day. Both Kelly and Kimberly will be featured in future writings of “Young, Gifted and Black”.
“We’re not trying to make records. A lot of our accomplishments do make or break records. It’s just the nature of what we do,” says Petgrave. “We just want to make sure our kids get the recognition they deserve.”
For additional information on Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum, please call (310) 618-1155 or visit their website at http://www.tamuseum.org.