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Young pilots are common, experts say

By Sandra Yi | Posted - Jul 22nd, 2014 @ 8:59pm


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OGDEN — Flight instructors say they aren’t surprised to hear that the pilot killed in a plane crash near the Utah-Arizona border Sunday was so young — only 19 years old.

Some aviation students will get a private pilot’s license before graduating high school, and instructors say sometimes younger students can make better pilots.

“The office view doesn’t get any better,” said Blake Sanborn, a multi-engine instructor at Cornerstone Aviation in Ogden.

That’s what drew Sanborn to aviation. He was 19 and a student at Westminster College when he got his private pilot’s license. Now 30 years old, he’s made aviation his career.

“There are a lot of younger people coming in, I think,” Sanborn said. “I think it’s a great time to start.”

Cornerstone Aviation is one of the largest flight schools in the state with as many as 150 students a year.

Owner Susan Horstman says most students are college-aged, but the interest in aviation often starts young.

Cornerstone does flight training for Salt Lake Community College and offers programs in three Utah high schools.

“We’ve had people as young as 12. Parents sent their kids up because they love aviation and parents want to keep the enthusiasm out there,” Horstman said.

A pilot-in-training has to be 16 years old before he or she can fly a solo mission.

Students can get their private pilot’s license when they’re 17, and according to Horstman, they have an average of 50 flight hours under their belt as well as 34 hours of ground school.

But training doesn’t stop there. Horstman says pilots undergo continual testing with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Obviously, it’s your life, so we want to make sure the people we set off on their own are very well prepared,” she said.

Horstman, who was the first female pilot for Pan American World Airways, says it’s not the age but experience that really matters.

“It’s a matter of training and what their knowledge is,” she said.

Horstman added, with the prevalence of video games, younger students may be more apt to catching on more quickly.

“They’re really pretty good. They’ve been doing all that simulator stuff on the ground for years. They actually learn faster than an older person would,” she said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating what caused the plane crash that killed 19-year-old Daulton Whatcott and his 16-year-old brother Jaxon.

NTSP public affairs specialist Keith Holloway said the single-engine Cessna is now in a secure facility, where investigators can document and examine it.

Horstman said it’s always sad to hear about plane crashes and she uses cases like it as a learning tool.

“What can we learn from that, what can we use to make it safer for our students?” she said.

A vigil for the Whatcott brothers was held at their home in Clinton at 9 p.m. Tuesday, and a memorial fund was set up through America First Credit Union.

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