By Sonya Hamasaki, CNN
Compton, California (CNN) – On a sunny afternoon at Compton Airport, 9-year-old Jose Pineda runs across the tarmac and makes a bee-line for a single-engine Cessna.
He's completely at ease –- clearly in his element –- laughing and joking about a special celebration coming up. A birthday. He runs his hand along the side of the plane, and walks underneath the wing, clearing it with one foot of headroom to spare. He swings open the door and climbs into his seat on the left side of the plane - the pilot’s seat.
Pineda carefully checks the instruments on the console. He picks up a two-way radio to talk to some "grown-ups" who run air traffic control. His seat belt clicks and he's ready for take-off. That's right, Pineda is a pilot; a "veteran," he tells us. He’s been studying aviation since he was six.
Inside the hangar, Pineda's friend, Tasneem Khatib, is also preparing to hit the skies. At 11 years old, she got a bit of a "late" start.
And then there’s 16-year-old Keilyn Hubbard, dressed to the nines in a navy blue pilot's suit. Sure, he’s at least old enough to drive. But he's also training for his first SOLO flight.
Just who are these kids?
They're not child actors filming a movie about kids who fly. Nor are they privileged child prodigies who set aviation records.
Jose, Tasneem and Keilyn are part of a unique afterschool program for inner city youth offered by Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum in Compton, California.
Here, hundreds of children - as young as 5 - are learning how to fly.