During the ride, Pitts said to Petgrave: "I noticed your hands aren't on the controls right now ..."
Petgrave replied: "Oh, I'm not flying. That's all him," as he pointed to the small boy to his left.
The pilot on the left isn't simply small — he's 11 years old. Meet student pilot James Knox.
What do his friends think about him piloting a helicopter?
"Some of them don't believe me," he said. "Most of them don't believe that I can fly."
Believe it — even if his legs are too short to reach the pedals.
In most places, James would be unique. But not at Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum. Compton, Calif., is one of the most violent cities in America, where more than 50 gangs battle over turf. But the space Pitts visited belongs to Petgrave.
"A lot of programs say, 'we want to get kids off the streets,'" he said. "We get them off the streets … about 1,000 feet above the streets!"
Petgrave, 45, is a Hollywood stunt pilot. He turned a $300 investment into a $3.5 million helicopter company — and then he sold it all to build his nonprofit organization.
"We start to make them think there's nothing they can't do," Petgrave said.
Many of Petgrave's 800 kids have learned to fly helicopters and planes. Four students have set seven world flying records, including a 14-year-old who became the youngest to solo a helicopter and a plane in one day.
Corporate partners like Boeing help provide the know-how, and surviving members of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen — the World War II pilots who proved blacks could pilot planes and help save the world — provide the inspiration.
"I tear up all the time just lookin' at 'em," said Ret. Lt. Col. Otis Cowley of the U.S. Air Force. "They are getting a chance to do something that nobody believed they could do."
Nobody, except perhaps Petgrave. He preaches a message of "sweat equity" and "self-determination" to school kids across the country.
In exchange for community service, Petgrave pays the kids $5 an hour, which can be used for $100 flying lessons or college tuition.
"The kids really blow me away with some of the things they come and talk to me about," Petgrave said. "Some of the improvement. Some of the life choices they've now turned into a positive route instead of the direction that they're going."
Take 13-year-old Diamond Hooper.
"I used to get suspended all the time and stuff like that," Hooper said.
"Now, I stopped doing that. Because Robin, he told me that I can do better than that," Hooper said. "My first hero out of all people would be Robin."
Doesn't every kid around the country want to fly planes?
"We're not trying to make everyone want to be a pilot," Petgrave said. "We're just trying to enable them to do whatever they want."
Thanks to one man's vision, this place is far more than a hangout. It's a place for young people to hold on to their dreams.
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