A few weeks ago I was asked if I would volunteer an airplane and my time for the Young Eagles program. The Young Eagles program is a volunteer effort to get kids ages 8-17 interested and involved in Aviation. I was a bit hesitant because it was going to mean cancelling my instrument lesson for the week, but it seemed like a good cause so why not! I got there at 9am and was immediately introduced to Daniel, my first passenger. I walked him and his parents out to the airplane to take some pictures and go over what was going to happen with the flight. After getting strapped in, we waved goodbye to the groups waiting and set off for a quick 15 minute flight over South East San Jose. We climbed up to a couple thousand feet and I turned the controls over to him so he could get a taste of what it felt like to fly the plane. He was STOKED! After we landed, he told me that was the first time he had ever been in a plane. We took a couple pictures and I signed the logbook they give each child. I know that is something he will probably never forget and I am happy that I could be apart of that experience. I did 10 flights yesterday and 15 of us pilots flew 200 kids around for the day. I didn’t get lots of pictures or instrument time for my logbook, but I saw lots of smiles and some very happy kids, and that’s much more gratifying than a couple hours of instrument training!
The Young Eagle program was literally one of the most serious driving forces in my life as it was one of the first things to foster my passion and interest for aviation. I went on my first one when I was 9 years old, and almost 20 years later I’m quite literally living my dream, due in part to the opportunity I was afforded through this program. It’s incredible that you did this. I’m sure the satisfaction you got is better than me saying this but I’m really glad to be associated with people like you, if only through the internet. This is really fantastic. I only hope someday that I’ve got the ability or resources to give back to this program which gave so much to me.
This is a series in which I get to learn about America from you.
James, 28, is an airline pilot. He grew up in southern Illinois, and is currently based in Chicago. I was excited to find out about life up in the air (and learn how pilots really feel about turbulence), and I hope you enjoy his interview as much as I did!
What inspired you to become a pilot?
When I was nine years old, my mom knew a guy through work who was a pilot, and he took me up in his Cessna 152 as part of the Young Eagle Program with the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA). I remember being completely nervous and also thinking it was the coolest thing ever.
Then, as young people are prone to do, I got distracted and drifted away, though I maintained a casual interest in aviation. I went to college at the University of Illinois in 2002 to study Astrophysics. I did that for two years before I finally realized it just wasn’t for me; upper level calculus was giving me a stress aneurism.
At the time, I was supporting myself with profits from online poker. I considered dropping out of school and moving to Las Vegas to take a run as a poker pro, but my mother probably would have probably disowned me. She insisted I finish my degree.
Super thrilled to be a part of this series I’ve been a fan of for so long. Kerry is a fantastic interviewer and it goes without saying that if for some reason you aren’t already following her you should remedy that immediately.
Great HD video of a couple, their Cessna 172 and nice trip around Phoenix’s Class B airspace with lots of great ATC and cockpit footage, too. This is how all flying videos should be captured!
This is the airport I instructed out of for a year and a half. At the time it was the busiest GA airport in the world, and it appears the pace has stayed about the same. I’m not joking in the slightest when I say this video actually made me feel physically uncomfortable via a Vietnam-style flashback when I heard all those Chinese accents and TransFlight call signs. Some of the best VFR controllers I’ve ever worked with were at this tower though.
My first time ever in an airplane was when I was 10 years old, through the EAA’s Young Eagle program. The guy who sponsored me was this older guy who flew in the military and owned his own little Cessna 152 out at the local grass strip airport. He took me up a couple of times, and needless to say, that experience was one of the most influential of my life and has since shaped much about my career.
Cut to today, 16 years later: My mom said she saw the guy in the grocery store. He apparently still remembered me because he asked what I was up to. He was, I’m told, delighted to hear that I had become a pilot all these years later. And though I’m not flying professionally anymore, I’m still working in the industry largely because of the flight I took with him so long ago.
The guy’s gotta be pushing 80 years old. It turns out he had a heart attack recently, and hasn’t been able to have his medical certificate reinstated, so he’s been grounded. He told my mom how much he misses flying and how all he wants to do is get back and go up in his plane. At this point I was like, “Sooooooo, you told him I’d go flying with him then, right?!” And my mom says, “No, I almost did, but I didn’t wanna commit you to something without asking.”
I’m like, “MOM WTF!?! That would be the coolest thing ever to go flying with that guy in the first airplane I ever flew in! I would jump at that opportunity in a SECOND! Are you crazy!?!”
Anyway, she thinks she can get a hold of him and tell him I’ll go flying with him if he wants to go up sometime. I can’t think of any better way to repay the guy for all he’s done for me. I hope this pans out.