Pilot Shares Passion for Flying to Inspire South LA Youth

Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum has taught hundreds of kids how to fly for free.

Robin Petgrave has turned his passion for flying into a mission of love.

The Jamaican-born pilot founded a nonprofit aviation museum at the Compton/Woodley Airport 15 years ago to give inner-city kids a chance he wishes he'd been given when he was a boy living in poverty.

"The house I lived in until I was seven had no running water, no electricity," Petgrave said.

He eventually came to America and made it to college on a track scholarship. As an adult he started his own helicopter company, which grew into a $3 million business.

One day he flew his chopper to a school in South Central to teach kids on Career Day.

"Then the doors open up and they see me get out of the helicopter, kids are like, 'What?'" he said. "'Wait a minute, a black guy is the pilot?'"

Petgrave knew his story could inspire a new generation to soar to even greater heights.

Petgrave sold his company and used the money to fund Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum which has now taught hundreds of kids how to fly for free.

Seven-year-old Lauro Banuelos Jr. is one of the youngest students at the museum. He takes flying lessons with Louis Lombardo, one of the museum's flight instructors.

Lauro Jr. has to sit on a cushion to see out the window but once he's behind the controls, there's no stopping him.

Even though he can't get his official pilot license until he's 16, he's already taking off and landing with an instructor by his side.

"You can move the airplane and you're up on the sky and it's like you're flying in the sky.. and I feel happy and excited," Lauro Jr. said.

Lauro's father works at a factory, printing silk screens. He volunteers at the museum in exchange for flight lessons for himself and his three sons.

"I always wanted to be a pilot but it was so hard. It's expensive," Lauro Banuelos Sr. said.

Lauro Sr. said learning to fly has helped all of his kids stay on the straight and narrow - not an easy feat in gang-ridden Compton.

"One time when I was sleeping in my bed, I heard four bullet shots, and it's not good, so you see what I mean?" Lauro Jr. said. "We don't want to get killed by bad people."

Lauro Sr. said he can never repay the debt he owes Robin Petgrave for giving all of his children a chance at a brighter future

And for little Lauro, who dreams of one day piloting a commercial airline, thanks to this program, he now knows the sky's the limit.

The museum is starting a new program with the Compton Unified School District that will allow high school students to earn college credits by working at the museum and learning to fly. They hope to eventually expand the program throughout the country.

If you'd like to help, visit the Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum website.

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