Massachusetts teen flies high as pilot, despite youth
EAST TAUNTON (AP) >> It's easy to get a new perspective, in many respects, when you're flying by yourself in a small propeller plane, miles above Taunton Municipal Airport.
Freedom. Exhilaration. Keeping focused and alert to everything around you.
Sixteen-year-old Alex Dupont, a junior at Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School, knows that feeling.
Since qualifying for his student pilot's certificate last October, on his 16th birthday, Dupont continues to move forward. Forward in the air as he continues to take flight lessons in Plymouth, at Alpha One. Forward on the ground, where his learner's permit and his motorcycle permit allow him to move ahead on four wheels and on two. Between school classes and flight lessons, he may wind down when he rides a dirt bike off-road.
He cannot yet drive a car or truck on his own, yet he can fly solo in a Cessna 150 or a Piper J3 cub, both single engine planes, miles above the ground.
"It's a lot of fun. I just can't wait until I get my private license. I can take my friends up," Dupont said.
That's his goal for his next birthday, when he turns 17 on October 4.
Dupont will get his pilot's license when he also completes or logs the required flight hours and passes both a flight test and written test. A minimum of 40 hours flight time must be completed for the pilot's license, or 20 hours minimum solo and 20 hours minimum with a flight instructor.
Dupont's parents, Melinda Paine-Dupont and Mike Dupont, are proud of Alex's accomplishments and pilots themselves, know what is required.
"There are other flight requirements, such as cross country," Melinda said, explaining that cross country is any flight Alex will pilot that is more than 50 miles from where he takes off.
A long cross country trip also is required, where Alex will need to fly 150 miles total and include two stops in that span. The two stops may be at other airports.
Before qualifying for his student pilot certificate, Alex, as is the case with all young men or women, must pass a physical exam from a doctor certified by the Federal Aviation Administration as a flight examiner.
It's a steady pathway to take to meet all of the pilot requirements. For Alex, it all leads to the responsibilities he wants to take on.
At B-P, Alex is enrolled in the metal fabrication program. His studies mesh with flying due to math and science connections, technical and hands-on skills. Especially when he is piloting a plane by himself.
"If anything goes wrong, I have to make my own decisions," he said. "You have to know the basics of everything."
That includes how to get out of stalls, spins, and other in-flight emergencies.
Mike Dupont said he worries less about his son flying alone in the air than if he was on the motorcycle or in a car.
It's the motorists around his son that concern him and his mom.
Alone, Alex can fly to Cranland, a public use airport in Hanson, to visit his friend.
"Well he can't drive, that's the funniest part," Mike Dupont said, referring to the learner's auto permit restrictions.
Melinda Paine-Dupont said she believes a pilot is a lot more qualified than a driver. The skills and focus needed to remain in the air are greater than what it takes to remain on the road.
On this day, sitting in the hangar of the company owned and operated by Mike Dupont — American Aero Services — Alex Dupont will demonstrate his flying skills.
"The freedom of flying is so amazing," says Melinda.
Her husband agrees.
"I still pinch myself after 11,000 hours of flying," Mike says.
The camaraderie of flying is a draw for many pilots.
"All our sons — the kids — have been flying with us since we were little," she says.
Mike Dupont's hangar is the largest at the Taunton municipal airport — 92 by 80 feet.
Melinda Paine-Dupont presses a button and the huge door sealing off nearly one whole side of the hangar opens up, like a showroom or Broadway theater curtain, revealing a set design only in this case, it's a beautifully brilliant blue sky and sunshine. Tomorrow's weather would prove different.
Alex gets on a motorcycle and its vrroom as he rides from the suddenly light-filled hangar. The yellow plane is moved out of the hangar and near the runway.
Next, a critical step takes place.
"The walkaround is really important," Alex says.
The teen, dressed in black pants, a wool sweater pulled over a T-shirt and dark sneakers, walks around the plane, looking at the wings, and the specially sized tires or wheels.
He checks the engine oil and demonstrates, using a tool, how to check to see if any water has seeped into the oil. It hasn't, yet it's key to check.
"It's about four quarts, so that's full," Alex says.
He steps up into a restored 1946 J3 Cub — it's a bright yellow plane with a propeller, a black z-shaped marking on its body. It's a step up that requires being fit to climb upward and into the plane's body; it's not an easy slide as into the front seat of a car.
Alex uses an iPad as his GPS. He takes it from where it is clipped to the plane body's roof. He checks out a destination, mindful it's a tool.
"It gives me everything a normal paper map would have but 100 times more," Alex says of the details offered by this mini and portable computer.
"You still have to learn what to do in case everything fails," his father says.
Five gallons of fuel are burned in an hour; this is how pilots determine how much fuel they will need, instead of miles per gallon, as in a car. The pre-flight inspection includes making sure there's enough fuel to cover the flying time.
Mike Dupont reviews the walk-around as well. Wooden blocks keeping the plane in place will be taken away. Once Alex is inside, he puts headphones on and prepares to put the plane into flight. His father steps away, spins the propellers at the plane's front, which catch and that loud buzzing sound is prevalent. Alex taxis toward the runway, the plane slows just a bit, proceeds forward, and is aloft. The plane flies out of sight.
About 20 minutes later, the plane's sound can be heard. Several more minutes pass, and what looks like a speck in the air becomes larger and closer. It is Alex, and he is home safe. He exudes a quiet confidence.
Flying alone in the small plane gives him a different relationship to the world, Melinda says about Alex.
From up high, the need to protect the natural environment is made clear. From up high, the sense of how a person fits into the world, that sense of being part of something greater than oneself, is made apparent.
"It does give you a different perspective," she says.
Information from: Taunton Daily Gazette, http://www.tauntongazette.com
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.