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July 15th, 2009
11:24 AM ET

Teen pilot sets cross-country record

A 15-year-old Los Angeles girl has reason to brag today. She recently set an aviation record and is looking to do many more. Kimberly Anyadike is believed to be the youngest African-American girl to pilot a plane cross-country. She spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Wednesday.

Kiran Chetry: I was amazed when I read about your story. You flew 7,000 miles. You flew from Compton, California all the way to Newport News, Virginia, and back again all in 13 days. What was that like taking on such a huge undertaking in the sky?

Kimberly Anyadike: It was so amazing. All the people I met, all the people I got to socialize with. I even made a couple new friends – even meeting some of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. It was such an exhilarating experience for me.

Chetry: With you on that flight was your instructor, Levi Thornhill. He's 87-years-old. He was one of the Tuskegee Airmen. How did you get to know him? What was your connection and why was it so important to you have to him there? And, as I understand it, 50 other Tuskegee Airmen signed your plane.

Anyadike: Well, I had a safety pilot, his name is Ronell Normal. But Mr. Thornhill sat behind me and he never complained once. But he was such a motivational person. He's a mentor to me. I met him after I joined the program about two years ago and the plane that I flew is dedicated to him. So I thought it was a good chance to give honor directly to him.

Chetry: Well, I think it is wonderful. You fell in love with flying at the age of 12, which is pretty young. You were able to take part in this really special program. It was a Compton-based aeronautical museum. They actually offered aviation lessons through an after-school program for disadvantaged youth. How did you become a lover of flight?

Anyadike: Well, I think I've always been interested in flight, but when we read about Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum we thought it was such an amazing way to put the idea to practical means. So we decided to take a demo flight and ever since we were hooked.

Chetry: What did your mom say when you came home and said, “Hey, I think I'm going to fly solo across the country”?

Anyadike: She was really excited for me because I'm doing something different, something that I want to be doing. So she was extremely excited.

Chetry: As I understand it, it wasn't just smooth sailing the whole time. You guys had some storms, right? You encountered some treacherous weather along the way. What was it like dealing with that in the air?

Anyadike: It made me kind of nervous because all of these things that I was facing were some new things. So I was just acting upon my instincts and stuff like that. And I've learned to stop over-controlling and to be more in control of the plane. So I thought that was a really good experience. So now I feel like I'm prepared for the worst.

Chetry: You're also prepared, as you want to do, to break some more records. This is what you want to do now: you want to become the youngest African-American girl to fly solo four single-engine planes and two helicopters in one day. Where did you come up with that?

Anyadike: Well, of course there’s a little rivalry between my sister and I, but of course it is motivational. I want to have my license by the time I'm 17 and I thought it was a cool way to kind of live my dream, I guess.

Chetry: Your sister is older than you, right? She also set records prior to you getting involved. As you said, it is a friendly sibling rivalry. But forget all of this. Your ultimate goal is to become a cardiovascular surgeon one day as well, right?

Anyadike: Yes. It's my dream.


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