Compton teen aims to become youngest African-American pilot to fly around US

COMPTON, Calif. (KABC) -- A 16-year-old from Compton is aiming to break a world record by becoming the youngest African-American pilot to fly around the continental U.S.

Isaiah Cooper's family and friends gathered around the teen and prayed for his journey before he took off Tuesday morning.

"I'm so happy that I get this opportunity, and most people don't," Cooper said.

That opportunity began when Cooper was just 5 years old. That's when he first attended Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum in Compton, a program that teaches inner-city kids about flying and offers academic support.

"Around 9 years old is when he became a co-pilot," said Natalia Knox, Cooper's mother.

However, Cooper admits he later left the program and started making some bad choices.

"After middle school, I got involved with the wrong crowd," Cooper said.

Inspired by the founder of the museum, Robin Petgrave, Cooper came back and asked for help.

"I want to do everything he did times 10, but at the same time I want to be humble enough to come back here and tell him, 'It only happened because of you,'" Cooper said.

So Petgrave challenged Cooper to break a world record.

"At first I didn't believe him, so then I was at work, and he called and he put Robin on the phone, and then I knew he was serious," Knox said.

For Cooper, it's all about motivating other young people and making Compton proud.

"I'm trying to teach them at a young age that if they put guns down and they make better decisions with their lives, they can all do something like this," Cooper said. "Or even if they don't want to do something like this and they want to do something better, they still have that opportunity."

Cooper's instructor is accompanying him on the trip, which will span more than 8,000 miles. Cooper is already making plans for next year.

"If this does go successfully, then next year at the age of 18, I'll be the youngest to fly around the world," Cooper said.

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