California Teen Flies More Than 8,000 Miles Around the Country

The 16-year-old made the journey in just 13 days.

ByCatherine Thorbecke
July 19, 2016, 5:09 PM

— -- A Compton, California, teenager is drawing attention after flying more than 8,000 miles around the continental United States in just 13 days.

Isaiah Cooper, 16, took off on July 5 and landed back home in Compton on Monday, where he was greeted by a crowd of cheering community members, according to his mentor, Robin Petgrave.

Petgrave, who taught the teen how to fly, founded Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum in Compton, a program that teaches inner-city kids how to fly and about aviation history, while offering academic support.

"They come here everyday and I put them to work," Petgrave told ABC News today. "They can do homework, they can tutor, and when they do these things, I give them flight lessons."

Petgrave said Isaiah started coming to the museum when he was 5, but Petgrave began closely mentoring Isaiah when he was in middle school and started hanging out with kids that Petgrave said had a negative influence on him.

"He talked to his pastor because he didn't like the direction his life was heading. His pastor said to meet with someone he looks up to, and he wants to be like when he grows up. So he came to me."

Petgrave said he put him to work. "He started doing about five hours of homework everyday. His grade-point average was about a 0.8 and then he raised it to above a 3.0," he said.

In return, Petgrave began teaching Isaiah how to fly, and then the teen got the idea that he wanted to fly across the country.

After severe weather forced Isaiah to make an emergency landing in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Petgrave said the teen was close to giving up.

"He wanted to come home," Petgrave said, "But I said, 'Heroes aren't heroes because what they did was easy, heroes are heroes because what they do is hard.'"

Previously, the museum taught and sponsored a 15-year-old African-American girl who flew coast to coast, but Petgrave said Isaiah's course took him all around the continental United States.

Isaiah has now set his eyes on a new goal -- to become the youngest pilot to fly solo around the world.

Petgrave said they are currently raising money to support Isaiah's trip around the world, and to keep the museum operating and teach more kids in Compton how to fly.

Isaiah remains optimistic, telling local ABC-owned station KABC-TV, "Whatever you want to do, you can do it, just put your mind to it."

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