The 17-Year-Old Pilot
When Kimberly Anyadike was little, her heroes were superheroes. "I'd see Superman or Wonder Woman flying on TV and think, 'That's so cool!'" she says. "My brother and sister and I would tie towels around our necks for capes and run around the house jumping off the couches and banisters. Every year I would ask Santa for a jet pack." In an after-school program at Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum in Compton, California, the 12-year-old took a spin in a single-engine Cessna 172. Midflight, she was thrilled when the instructor handed her the controls. "Afterward my mom asked if I wanted to take flying lessons, and I said, 'Yes!'"
Three years later, in 2009, Anyadike became the youngest African-American female in history to pilot a round-trip, coast-to-coast flight. (Her chaperone for all 7,000 miles was Major Levi Thornhill, one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American pilots whose heroism in World War II inspired Anyadike's record-setting journey.) "Flying over Texas was the most fun because there were a lot of summer rainstorms," Anyadike says. "I wasn't scared—I'm never scared. I just focus. And before every flight, I pray."
Anyadike plans to become a cardiovascular surgeon after college, but for now the big goal is earning a couple of licenses this summer—pilot's and driver's. "When I'm flying, I'm in control. I trust myself," she says. "The sound of the engine, the movement of the propeller—it's like gravity gets suspended. It's as if you're closer to heaven." Or to being a superhero. —Marcia Desanctis