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11-Year-Old Pilot Is Youngest Girl to Fly Across U.S.

September 24, 1993|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Wearing a jumpsuit and a mouthful of braces, 11-year-old Victoria Van Meter made aviation history Thursday by becoming the youngest female pilot to fly from one edge of the continental United States to the other.

Her nearly 3,000-mile journey began Monday in Augusta, Me., and ended amid shouts of "Amelia!"--as in Amelia Earhart--as Victoria, assisted by her flight instructor, banked over a steep mountain and smoothly landed her single-engine Cessna 172 at a small airstrip.

Upon arrival, she was greeted by dozens of well-wishers bearing everything from a Top Gun hat from Miramar Naval Air Station to gifts from a glad-handing Shamu, who offered free tickets and a ride to Sea World.

A sixth-grader who began flying last October, Victoria stared out at a sea of minicams and said, "I didn't think there would be this much people."

Victoria said she never felt scared or daunted by the prospect of achieving a goal that she alone conceived.

Bob Baumgartner, Victoria's flying instructor, said that while turbulence made the trip "one of the worst roller-coaster rides I've ever seen"--and made Victoria sick to her stomach and brought tears to her eyes-- she never wavered.

"She's as determined and tenacious as anyone I've ever seen," said the veteran pilot, who supervised her through 150 hours of flight instruction.

Victoria, of Meadville, Pa., shares a place in the annals of flying with 15-year-old Tony Aliengena, who as a 9-year-old in 1988 became the youngest person ever to fly cross-country when he piloted a Cessna from Oceanside to Boston.

Tony, who lived in San Juan Capistrano, later moved with his parents to Park City, Utah, but not before flying around the world, including a stop in the then-Soviet Union.

Reached at his home Thursday, Tony's father, transportation broker Gary Aliengena, said that, while congratulating Victoria and her parents, he questioned whether her feat would be officially sanctioned.

Aliengena said that his son was accompanied on all flights by a representative from an aviation body that verified the boy flying the plane single-handedly, without the instructor ever touching the controls.

Only Baumgartner accompanied Victoria, and while he admitted her accomplishment might fall short of official sanction, he said he instructed her only verbally, even through the roughest turbulence.

Victoria's mother, Corinne Van Meter, said she and her husband were relieved the event was over, especially after a sleepless night Wednesday in the wake of the bumpiest leg between Albuquerque and Phoenix.

"It turned out to be more difficult than we ever thought it would be," Victoria's mother said with a sigh.

Next stop for Victoria, who longs to become an astronaut after obtaining a "solo" license on her 16th birthday, is a trip Wednesday to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

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