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Teen aviator at Scott AFB has bright future

Tyrell Rhodes, 16, sits in the cockpit of the Cessna 152 he flies during his pilot's courses at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Tyrell was born with Cerebral Palsy, but he hasn't let that stop him from achieving his goal of becoming a certified pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Amber R. Kelly-Herard)

Tyrell Rhodes, 16, sits in the cockpit of the Cessna 152 he flies during his pilot's courses at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Tyrell was born with Cerebral Palsy, but he hasn't let that stop him from achieving his goal of becoming a certified pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Amber R. Kelly-Herard)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS) -- Everybody has personal obstacles in life they must overcome.

For a 16-year-old from here born with cerebral palsy, his obstacles started at birth.

Tyrell Rhodes was always told that he wouldn't be able do things that most others did. Fortunately, his mother kept telling him that he could do anything he wanted.

"When I was younger, I had to walk with braces and a walker, but I wanted to prove everyone wrong and walk without any of those things," said Tyrell, now a junior in high school.

Tyrell now isn't just walking, but he is flying, literally.

Tyrell entered Southwest Airlines' third annual Continuing the Legacy in Aviation essay contest and was selected as one of six finalists.

"I feel excited and determined to do better things," Tyrell said. "If I can win an essay contest, I can also achieve other things."

The contest was open to youth ages 11 to18. The essay had to explain how the accomplishments of aviators past and present have impacted the current aviation industry and explain the entrant's personal fascination with aviation.

Finalists earned a tour of the Dallas Love Field control tower, the Frontiers of Flight Museum, and the Southwest Airlines headquarters facility, including the pilot training center, maintenance facility, and reservation department. They will also get to operate Southwest Airlines' flight simulators and meet Tuskegee Airmen and Southwest Airlines leaders.

Tyrell's passion for aviation began when he was young, and much of his inspiration came from living on Air Force bases.

The young aviator took his first flight in 2008 at the Aero Club at Scott Air Force Base. He had to wait until he was 16 so to could attend the pilot courses at Southwestern Illinois College, which he started in September. Every Saturday he flies a Cessna 152.

"I'm working toward gaining 40 hours for my pilot's license," Tyrell said.

He recently underwent his fifth surgery, which enabled him to fly better.

Before the surgery, his feet pointed outward, which made it difficult for him to reach the aircraft rudder pedals while flying.

Tyrell did his research, found a surgery, and told his mom about it. A month after going to the doctor's office, Tyrell was in the operating room.

"My motto is 'keep climbing and never level off, no matter what your speed or angle of attack is,'" he said. "It's a pilot thing."

According to a family friend, Tyrell's can-do attitude comes mostly from his mom, Tech. Sgt. Robin Rhodes, of 618th Air and Space Operations Center.

"This young man has so much determination, anyone who meets him can see the optimism that he always shows and will learn that their dreams can come true," said Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Jones, the 375th Civil Engineer Squadron superintendent, and a family friend. "His mother raised all of her kids by herself and showed them that they are all special in their own way and she nurtures and encourages them to do what they want to do."

Tyrell has two younger sisters. One of his sisters is 14 years old and is 5'10'' tall. When everyone told her she should play basketball, she did track and field. His other sister, who is 8 years old, is the only girl on her football team.

Tyrell originally wanted to be an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, but due to his medical conditions, he will not be able to join the military.

"When I grow up, I want to be a commercial pilot for famous people like P Diddy and Usher," Tyrell said. "For a side job, I would also like to provide airplane tours around cities."

Sandy Lang, the Scott AFB Aero Club manager, said, "It's rare in these times to see a youth as determined and driven as Tyrell. His hunger for knowledge and determination to achieve is humbling and we are very proud of him."

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