Like many other teens, sophomore John Snyder is training to get his license.
However, the license isn’t for a car.
It’s for a plane.
Snyder started taking flying lessons in May. He said his interest in flying was caused by his uncle, who was a navigator in the Air Force.
“I thought I’d take up (flying) even though it was kind of early,” Snyder said. “You have to be 16 (years old) to fly by yourself, and I was only 15 (in May).”
Snyder said he has flown to Napa, Chico, South Lake Tahoe, the Grand Canyon, Sedona and San Andreas airport.
Snyder isn’t the only aspiring pilot at SCDS.
Junior Alex Rogawski started taking flying lessons this summer at Rison Aviation in San Diego.
Rogawski flew in a 40-mile radius from Gillespie Field, where Rison is located, around the San Diego area.
Some of his other flights were along the coastline of San Diego, from San Diego toward Orange County, and over mountainous terrain east of Gillespie Field.
“As long as the airspace wasn’t restricted, I was allowed to fly wherever we pleased,” Rogawski said.
According to Rogawski, his mother was very close with Jim Panknin, Rison’s owner, in college.
Rogawski said he started flying because he has been interested in aviation since he was little.
Over the summer, Rogawski also interned at Panknin’s charter company, Executive Flight Support. The internship included filling out (mostly financial) paperwork, adding up bills, checking fuel prices and creating bills for passengers.
Rogawski said he also worked on the company’s social media accounts to help attract new pilots.
In return the company provided planes, runways and an instructor for him during his flying lessons.
When Snyder began flying, he flew with four different instructors, who helped him with the routines.
Snyder said that there is a large turnover in instructors because becoming a flight instructor is part of the process to become a certified pilot.
When aspiring pilots graduate from college, they can pick up flight hours (which are necessary to be hired by airlines) by becoming instructors.
However, not all instructors are training to become pilots.
Rogawski said all of his instructors were experienced pilots who instructed on the side, and Snyder said his last one was a California Highway Patrol officer who was already a licensed pilot.
Rogawski said he has had positive experiences with each of his instructors.
“My main instructor was a super-nice guy – very helpful and really helped me learn my way around planes,” he said.
Rogawski said the instructor showed him around the cockpit, explaining how the plane flew and giving him a lot of in-the-air practice.
Like Rogawski, Snyder said all four of his instructors have been “pretty great.” However, there was one who grabbed the control stick away from Snyder when he was landing to take control of the plane, which he did not like.
“She didn’t think I could (land) the plane by myself, but I could,” he said.
According to Snyder, the plane he flies with his instructor is about the size of a minivan, but he plans to fly bigger ones with multiple engines once he gets his license.
He does not own a plane, but rents one from the company where his current instructor works.
Rogawski said he has flown a Piper PA-28-161 Warrior, an all-metal, unpressurized, single-engine, piston-powered airplane with low-mounted wings and tricycle landing gear.
“(It is a) four-seat single-engine prop, sort of like a sedan,” Rogawski said.
Snyder flies twice a month. He estimates he has flown about 50 hours so far.
Aspiring pilots must fly 40 hours to receive their license. They must also take a pre-solo written take-home exam, which Snyder has already passed.
According to Snyder, the exam tests knowledge of many situations, such as what to do when the engine dies or how to perform maneuvers with certain measurements (like a steep turn within plus or minus 100 feet), and whether the student pilot can land the plane.
The exam also asks about airspace (where and how high a pilot can go), various functions of the plane, what speeds are allowed and what different insignias mean.
For example, if pilots are at an airport, they need to know what the heading numbers, which indicate the direction of flight, mean.
“It’s not very complicated,” Snyder said, “but there’s a lot of detail in the airspace questions because they don’t want you to, for example, fly into Beale airspace, where the Air Force is located, and get shot down by fighter jets.”
Snyder said he missed only two of the exam’s 100 questions.
Because he passed the test, Snyder can fly by himself but has done so only once.
Rogawski said he can’t fly by himself yet and isn’t taking lessons at the moment but hopes to pass the exam and finish getting his license this summer.
The licensing process for pilots includes a written test and a check flight with an FAA-certified (Federal Aviation Administration) pilot.
And Snyder is now looking forward to getting his pilot’s license when he turns 17 (a requirement for the license) on August 22, as he is interested in flying as a career.
According to Snyder, there are many career paths for pilots, such as attending the Air Force Academy, going to college and then joining the Air Force Reserves, or becoming an airline pilot.
Other options include colleges specializing in aeronautical engineering with training to become a pilot as well. This is one option Snyder said he is especially interested in; another is the military.
Snyder said he wants to join the Air Force, but he plans to attend college first.
Pilots must make a 10-year, active duty service commitment when they enlist, according to the Air Force website.
“I’m definitely going to serve in the military,” Snyder said. “I’m not sure about (serving) the whole ten years, though, so I might join the (Air Force) Reserve.”
In the Reserve, pilots are allowed to choose their flight hours and don’t have to serve a 10-year commitment, according to Snyder.
“That’s also a way to (gain) more hours, so after (serving in the Reserve) I can become an airline pilot,” Snyder said.
He also aspires to become a firefighter pilot after he retires.
“(Fires) are a really big issue in California, and I want to be able to help the community out,” Snyder said. “It doesn’t pay a lot of money, but it seems like a really cool job.”
Rogawski is interested in flying as a career, too. However, he said because it takes a long time to get the hours and ratings necessary to become a pilot, he is not entirely sure.
For both boys, there are many great aspects of flying.
Rogawski said he loves seeing everything from above.
“It’s just cool to look down and see your surroundings from so high in the air and to have the ability to move around up there,” Rogawski said.
However, Snyder said he is often so focused on the plane that it is hard for him to take in the view.
“I don’t think (I have) a favorite thing about flying, but when you’re up there – especially when you’re flying alone, and you just hear the engine – it’s so serene,” Snyder said.
He also really enjoys flying at night, which he has done once in Arizona.
“It’s just a totally different type of flying,” Snyder said. “You get to see a bird’s-eye view of the city at night, which is amazing. Not a lot of people get to see that.”
He also has a definite least favorite part: putting the cover on the airplane after flying.
“It’s a pain,” Snyder said. “You have to strap the cover around the whole plane, and there’s so many things you have to strap and hook on.”
Rogawski said his least favorite things are all the pre-flight checks, checklists and paperwork.
“It can take a long time, but it’s also important to be safe, (and it’s) not something I can avoid,” he said.
Rogawski said he has never been involved in any scary incidents. During one flight, his attitude indicator (an instrument used in an aircraft to inform the pilot of the orientation of the aircraft relative to Earth’s horizon) was a little off, but this wasn’t an issue because it was sunny and clear out. It was easily fixed once Rogawski landed.
Snyder had a similar experience: the flaps of his plane, which lift the plane during takeoff and slow it down during landing, repeatedly fell down during the flight because the flap-switch did not stay up.
He also once almost ran over a piece of metal on the runway with his plane while flying in Chico.
And during one flight the horizontal stabilizer, which is used to maintain the plane’s longitudinal balance, failed to work, but it did not affect the plane much, according to Snyder.
But do nerves ever get to these pilots in training?
“Nope,” Snyder said.
Rogawski agreed. “Planes are usually pretty safe,” he said. “It’s almost always pilot error when a plane crashes.
“Flying doesn’t scare me. Otherwise I wouldn’t be a pilot!”
—By Héloïse Schep
In addition to flying planes, junior Alex Rogawski has also collected model airplanes for about 10 years.
Q: Why did you begin collecting model airplanes?
A: My grandfather bought me a few model airplanes when I was (young).
I especially liked the planes when I was younger, (since) I couldn’t fly.
Q: Where do you buy them?
A: I buy them pre-built from different websites.
Q: How many models do you have?
A: Around 30 or 40.
Q: What type of planes do you collect?
A: Mostly Delta (Air Lines) aircraft. I have pretty much every type Delta currently flies.
I also have models from other American and international airlines.
Almost all of the model planes are commercial, but I also have a few WWII-era fighter planes.
Q: Why mostly Delta aircraft?
A: Delta is my favorite airline.
Q: What is the most expensive aircraft you own? Where did you get it?
A: I own some planes that are pretty old and couldn’t be purchased today unless it’s from a collector. My Delta (Boeing) 757 or 767, without winglets, are the rarest. I got (them) online many years ago, probably from Amazon.
Q: Do you ask for particular models as presents?
A: These days I don’t purchase them very often. In the past, (though), yes. Almost all (my planes) were presents or (bought with) money I (had) saved up.
Q: Is there anything you dislike about the planes?
A: There isn’t much I dislike, but they do break very easily and require a high amount of precision and care.