How it All Got Started
Robin Petgrave, founder and chief pilot of Celebrity Helicopters, has always enjoyed mentoring youth. Despite running a busy flight school and tour company, he made time to bring kids from around South Los Angeles to his hangar at Torrance Airport, and teach them about flying.
Recognizing the positive effects of learning aviation on kids considered at-risk, Robin felt he could have more of an impact. So in 1998, he established Torrance Aeronautical Museum and made it his personal mission to engage at-risk youth in aviation as an alternative to the negative influences in their environment
Robin first started by reaching out directly to students at their schools. Instead of just guest speaking at school functions, he did something unheard of at the time: landing his Robinson R44 helicopter directly on school grounds. He would speak to students about the importance of their education in being successful in life and achieving their dreams
Dubbed ‘Positive Vibrations’, the outreach program quickly caught on among the local aviation and Los Angeles K-12 community. Members of the Los Angeles Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. soon joined the visits and Robin was visiting schools every week. Today, Positive Vibrations still goes by the same model and kids continue to be motivated to achieve.
Inspiring Young Minds
Robin was inspired to go further from the positive feedback he received from teachers and school administrators. They would tell him how much more motivated students were in the classroom after a visit. They were more curious, asked more questions, but most importantly, made a real connection between their education and what they wanted to do when they grew up.
This got Robin thinking: What if there was an after school program that taught kids how to actually fly? If aviation could do this much for a youth, what else could it do?
With this idea, Aero Squad After School Program was born.
Realizing his vision did not come without challenges and barriers. There were issues of funding and resistance from officials. However, much support did come from influential individuals and groups, such as former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, Compton Mayor Eric Perrodin, former Los Angeles Police Department Chief Bernard Parks, Sheriff Lee Baca, and organizations such as Northrop Grumman, The Boeing Company, and The Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. These supporters, some quite vocal, fueled Robin’s vision for the museum, which at the time seemed impossible to realize.
During the 1st Annual Community Care Awards in 2001, where community leaders were recognized for their work with at-risk youth, Mayor Perrodin extended TAM an invitation to relocate to the city of Compton on the Compton-Woodley Airport. To base TAM right in the heart of South Los Angeles made perfect sense for carrying out the mission as the location would enable the organization to better serve its’ target community and clients.
By 2002, having left Torrance, TAM changed their name to Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum and opened their doors to the the South L.A. community. Those doors still remain open there today.