Barely peeking over the cockpit of his single-engine plane, 11-year-old Tony Aliengena of San Juan Capistrano took off from Orange County's John Wayne Airport this morning, beginning a seven-week flight that will land him in record books as the youngest aviator to fly around the world.
The fourth-grader with buzz-cut hair told reporters at a press conference that he was not nervous. "It's like flying anywhere," he said, standing on a stool to be seen over a podium.
Tony's 17,000-mile journey has been dubbed the "Friendship Flight" because its highlight will be delivering about 50,000 letters from American schoolchildren to Soviet children. He also hopes to present Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev with a 1,000-foot-long scroll filled with children's signatures.
The nonchalant pilot described his anticipated meeting with the Soviet leader: "I'll shake his hand. Then he'll say something. Then I'll show him my scroll."
One Soviet official at the press conference at Martin Aviation called Tony's trip "a historical moment." Tony's trip will touch "millions and millions of children and open the door for global communication," said Gennady P. Alferenko, chairman of the Foundation for Social Inventions of the U.S.S.R., who helped arrange the flight.
Tony was expected to land in Salt Lake City this afternoon to end the first leg of the trip. With him in the six-seat Cessna 210 Turbo are his parents, Gary and Susan, his 10-year-old sister, Alaina, and a representative of the National Aeronautics Assn., to verify that Tony pilots the plane the entire distance.