From simulator to flying friendly skies

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The late pop icon Andy Warhol spoke about everyone's 15 minutes of fame.

It took 14-year-old amateur flier Brad Gormley about half that time on Feb. 23 to garner prestige at Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.

In less time than it takes to get a basic haircut, the student with Pacific Rim Aviation Academy became one of the youngest pilots to ever fly solo out of the airport in Pitt Meadows.

Brad's unescorted flight, from lift off to landing, took approximately seven minutes.

"It was a quick little thing," Brad recalled.

Brad had to wait a couple of days for the weather to clear but was finally able to make it up on his own, and performed what Pacific Rim chief pilot and flight instructor Jim Buerk described as "a fantastic flight."

In the cockpit of a Cessna 172 single engine plane, Brad pulled out his pre-taxi checklist. After receiving clearance, he started his flight.

"Gauges were green, the air speed was alive, we had full throttle, and that's the point [when] you put a little back pressure on the column and it just nicely lifted up for me," Brad.

At about 450 feet, Brad looked towards his left wing tip, made a turn, and then ascended to 1,000 feet.

A couple of minutes later, the time came to put the aircraft safely on terra firma.

Brad admitted he was a little keyed up about the prospect of his first solo landing.

"The approach speed is 70 mph, and I came in and cut the throttle, and_ I was flying level right above the runway," he explained. "As you feel the plane starting to sink, you do a flare, which brings its nose up. It kind of went sideways on me, so I pushed the right rudder pedal to counteract that, and it just touched down, no problem."

The Coquitlam resident's fascination with flying started at a very young age.

His grandparents bought him a flight simulator for his desktop computer when he was seven years old.

"I played it all the time," he said. "I slowly started adding bigger equipment to it and eventually I said, 'I really want to do this for real!'"

Simulated flying became the real thing in February 2011, when he started to take flying lessons at Pacific Rim at Pitt Meadows airport.

The first time Brad went up in the co-pilot's seat, he was alongside Pacific Rim assistant chief flight instructor Masafumi Tsujino. They flew over Coquitlam before heading back to the airport.

"He let me have the controls for most of the time," Brad said.

As they approached the strip, Tsujino had a surprise in store for the young student.

"He said I was going to land it," Brad recalled. "I was a little bit shocked at the time. Here it was, my first flight, and I was already going to land the plane."

Hours of using the flight simulator came in handy.

"Since I had a lot of simulator, I thought it wasn't going to be as hard," he said. "Truthfully, if I didn't have my simulator, it would have been a lot more difficult and a lot more challenging."

After a smooth approach, Brad was pleasantly surprised with how well the plane touched down.

Over the next 12 months, Brad accumulated enough hours and experience that he was ready to fly on his own, by his birthday.

The legal age to fly solo, as per the Canadian Aviation Regulations, is 14 years old, Buerk explained.

While most his age are playing Xbox, Brad was studying his aviation text books and practising on his flight simulator, while going out on instructional flights with a handful of different instructors from Pacific Rim.

"It started out with some basics: how to climb the plane, how to make the plane descend, turning, and all that kind of stuff," Brad said. "They [the Pacific Rim instructors] gave me a whole ton of tips, so truthfully I don't think I would have been able to do my solo if it wasn't for all of their help."

Before he went up on his own, Brad also had to demonstrate his ability to fly in normal and abnormal situations, and be able to handle emergency situations without assistance (this is done in a simulator).

Brad also took countless instructional flights around the airport, because, he explained, most aviation accidents occur "in the [airport] circuit."

Buerk said Brad, a Grade 8 student at Hillcrest Middle School in Coquitlam, is off to a flying start towards a promising career in aviation.

Brad can now train for a private pilot licence, which he can obtain when he's 17.

Then, at 18, he'll be eligible for a commercial licence, which would allow him to fly for money.

At 21, he'll be eligible for an airline transport pilot licence.

"Most people who get their airline transport pilot's licence are in their 30s," Buerk said. "He's way above the curve. He's rocking it."

Brad would like to become a flight instructor at Pacific Rim, and after that "go anywhere. Any bush flying company, flying smaller planes_"

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