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Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014

Young pilots are common, experts say

By Sandra Yi, Deseret News

Published: Wed, July 23 7:22 p.m. MDT

 Flight instructors in Utah say it's not unusual for a 19-year-old to be flying a plane.  A pilot-in-training has be at least 16 years old before he or she can fly a solo mission.  They can earn a private pilot's license when they're 17.

Flight instructors in Utah say it's not unusual for a 19-year-old to be flying a plane. A pilot-in-training has be at least 16 years old before he or she can fly a solo mission. They can earn a private pilot's license when they're 17.

(Steve Landeen, Deseret News)

OGDEN — Investigators are still trying to figure out why a single-engine plane went down Sunday in the Virgin River Gorge.

Daulton Whatcott, 19, was flying his brother, 16-year-old Jaxon Whatcott, to a basketball tournament in Las Vegas when the plane went down.

Flight instructors in Utah say student pilots are getting younger and younger, and it’s not uncommon for a 19-year-old to be flying a plane.

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, 3811 Airport Road.

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-age, but the interest in aviation often starts young.

Cornerstone handles 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 they have an average of 50 flight hours under their belt, as well as 34 hours of ground school, Horstman said.

But training doesn’t stop there. 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.

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

“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 Daulton and Jaxon Whatcott. The Whatcott brothers' single-engine Cessna 172 went down about 7:30 p.m. Sunday in a rocky and steep terrain area along the Arizona Strip, about 150 feet off I-15 just south of the Virgin River Gorge.

NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said the single-engine Cessna is now in a secure facility, where investigators can document and examine it.

Email: syi@deseretnews.com

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1. Nan BW
ELder, CO,
July 23, 2014

I am so sad for the family and friends of the two young men who just died in the 'plane crash, and the young man and his father who died in a crash just after take-off over the ocean. I am so blessed that when two of our sons flew from SLC to Nauvoo in a four-seater that they made the round trip in safety. They had two friends along, and one son was greatly concerned about weight. He insisted they plan and replan their routes over mountains, and that they made many stops for fuel. Both were in their 20s, and the younger one had been flying since age 15. He did his first solo on his 16th birthday instead of getting a driver's license. The Nauvoo trip was a wonderful adventure for them, but I'm grateful events in their lives have made flying not feasible. Every time they flew, or the piloting one was flying alone, I was on edge. There are just too many ways small aircraft can be snatched from the sky.