Guest Editorial: Mia Chen

Senior Mia Chen shares her journey to becoming an official private pilot — from folding paper airplanes as a child to flying Cessna 152s.

I never knew how to fold a paper airplane correctly. Every prototype I had ever created had either flopped or spiraled to the ground.

Ever since I can remember, I have always pondered the mystery of flight. Everytime I traveled, I would sit in the airport and watch planes takeoff. How can a colossal metal tube with wings fly? Since my mother is a flight attendant, when I was 12, I was granted the opportunity to talk to the captains and get a first-hand view of a Boeing 747 cockpit. Seeing hundreds of buttons, screens, panels and most importantly, the heavenly view at 40,000 feet, is what first sparked my interest in aviation.

I wanted to apply my passion for planes in everything I did. When I joined Science Olympiad in middle school, I participated in an event that focused on building gliders, which gave me a basic understanding of the physics behind how planes fly. Throughout high school I continued participating in hands-on building events, specifically in constructing aerial prototypes out of light balsa wood. I remember so vividly the first time I successfully launched my plane and gazed at it as it circled the gym. That was when I knew I wanted to pursue aviation.

In my sophomore year of high school, I took a leap from making airplanes to actually flying one. Fueled by my love for aeronautical sciences and aviation, I took an introductory flight: a short flight with a licensed flight instructor who introduced me to the basics of flying. I got into the small four-seater plane with the instructor in the co-pilot seat, my mother in the back and myself in the pilot-in-command seat. As soon as we finished pre-flighting, we lined up next to the runway for takeoff.

I felt the adrenaline pump through my entire body as I held onto the controls and realized that we were flying. As we breached the different layers of clouds, I felt a sense of bliss and peace, despite the fact that the engine was roaring. I loved every second of the flight, from take-off to landing and parking the plane away. This flight was the moment I realized I wanted to be a pilot.

I started my private pilot training right after the introductory flight, at age 16 in my junior year. Around three to four times a week I would go to my flight school, Pinnacle Aviation Academy, and train at Palomar Airport. I would fly Cessna 152s, which are two- seater-propeller planes.

Controlling the plane at first was difficult as it was a new feeling I had never experienced before. Unlike a car, a plane has four forces acting on it: lift, weight, thrust and drag, which allow me to climb, descend, accelerate and decelerate. The learning process consisted of many hours of just flying from point A to point B and making sure I had full control of the plane.

As my training progressed, I moved on to learn how to perform emergency procedures in the cases of engine failures, engine fires, wing-tip fires and avionic (electrical) failures. Throughout my training, I have experienced heavy turbulence and two avionic failures when I lost the ability to communicate with Air Traffic Control. None of these events have faltered my confidence or given me cold feet in becoming a pilot.

I have also flown many long-haul flights to San Bernardino and Long Beach that required days of preparation and flight planning. Before every long distance flight, it was crucial for me to map out the routes I would be flying, calculate the amount of fuel and oil needed, list the frequencies to put in my radio and read over weather forecasts.

Choosing the aviation route as my career, I knew it would be challenging to balance my flying with school, the countless risk factors I would face and the commitment it would take to achieve my license. What was once just a dream of becoming an airline pilot, is now a reality. At the age of 17, I am an official private pilot and I will continue capitalizing on the opportunity of being the youngest female pilot in my flight school.

Overall, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity of learning how to fly. Cruising around the world and chasing the horizon have been some of the most therapeutic experiences in my life. My training has taught me to be resilient against unforeseen obstacles, but to also look around and enjoy the view.

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