Accompanied by his Soviet pen pal, 11-year-old Tony Aliengena left Santa Ana, Calif., Monday on an around-the-world mission of friendship.
The San Juan Capistrano, Calif., boy is flying a single-engine Cessna 210 to Moscow where he and his sister, Alaina, will present a 1,000-foot "Friendship Scroll" to Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev later this summer.Salt Lake City was the young pilot's first stop of the 47-day journey, and dozens of Utah children traveled to the Airport Hilton Monday to meet Tony and sign the scroll. By trip's end, the document is expected to bear the signatures of thousands of American children.
Charity Scoville of Salt Lake City urged her brothers and sisters to sign the scroll after she read about the event in the newspaper.
"I just think it's neat that he's going to fly to the Soviet Union and give it to him (Gorbachev). I thought it was a good idea," the 13-year-old said.
The children's father, Benjamin Scoville, said he has marveled at the good will that has developed recently between the United States and the Soviet Union.
"I was just thinking how different the attitude was when I was a kid. When they put up Sputnik, we were very much worried about it," Scoville said.
Dubbed "Friendship Flight '89," the project began when Tony wrote Gorbachev to ask permission to fly to the Soviet Union. The proposal came on the heels of Tony's record-setting flight across the United States in 1988.
Soviet government officials agreed to meet with Tony's father, Gary Aliengena, last winter to discuss the proposal. Permission was granted, and the Aliengena family began the task of finding sponsors for the trip.
It was in Moscow that Gary Aliengena became acquainted with his son's pen pal, Roman Tcheremnykh.
Just as the trip has begun, so has the friendship between Roman and Tony. The boys began corresponding about six months ago but had not met until last weekend in California. They visited Knott's Berry Farm and attended a baseball game before departing on the journey.
Speaking through an interpreter, Roman said he was impressed by California. "There are many things we in the Soviet Union do not have. For instance, parks of amusement," he said.
The trip is sponsored by the Soviet government, several U.S. companies and private contributions to the non-profit Children's Center for International Relations in El Toro, Calif.
Upon his return to the United States this summer, Tony is scheduled to present a friendship scroll signed by Soviet children to President Bush.