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NBCBLK28 2017

NBCBLK28: Above and Beyond: Isaiah Cooper Is Youngest Black Pilot to Fly Across the U.S.

Meet the 17-year-old Record Setting Pilot, Isaiah Cooper 2:03

Isaiah Cooper, 17, Pilot

Compton, CA

At an age when most teens are hoping to obtain their driver’s license, Isaiah Cooper was making history as the youngest African-American to pilot an airplane across the continental United States.

Accompanied by a co-pilot, the Compton, Calif., native completed the two-week, 8,000-mile cross-country trip at the age of 16 last July, after years of flight training.

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“I live a block away from the Compton/Woodley airport and I’ve always loved airplanes,” he said.

When he turned five, his mom enrolled him in an after-school program offered through Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum (TAM), that teaches inner-city kids about flying while also supporting academics. The program is run by founder and executive director Robin Petgrave, an African-American pilot whose company conducts helicopter tours, charter flights and entertainment industry production work.

Image: Isaiah Cooper
Isaiah Cooper from Compton, Calif., aims to become the youngest pilot to fly solo around the world. Jim Seida / NBC News

Cooper said he flourished as a pilot until he entered middle school and got involved with the wrong crowd. He left the aeronautical program and his grades dropped.

“I eventually realized that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life,” Cooper said.

As a high school student, Cooper enrolled in independent study and returned to the TAM program. He recently started a fundraising campaign at gofundme.com to support his next goal: breaking the Guinness World Record for being the youngest person to fly around the world in 2018 at the age of 18.

“I used to think of flying as a hobby,” said Cooper. “But I’ve decided that after college, I want to follow in the footsteps of Robin and make a career as a private helicopter pilot.”


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NBCBLK28 2017 Honorees
NBCBLK is using the 28 days in the month of February to honor 28 of the nation's most impressive innovators, all 28 years and younger. Get to know the #NBCBLK28 class of 2017.

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