Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ohio: Mechanicsburg student one of 3,500 certified teen pilots in the U.S.

URBANA — Against odds many people face — time and money shortages, distractions with friends, some doubtful family members — a local teen completed her flight certification earlier this month.

She’s now a part of an exclusive club, and she will be for a couple years yet. Only 3,500 pilots in the U.S. are 19 or younger, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

That’s about half of one percent of all the country’s certified pilots.

Jennifer Mastoris is 17.

Mastoris, a Mechanicsburg High School senior, has taken flight lessons for about two and a half years now.

Flight school usually takes 6-9 months at Mad River Air, the school at Urbana’s Grimes Field, according to its instructor, Aaron Coleman.

“She’s worked really hard,” Coleman said of his student. “Not that she had to work hard; she’s kind of naturally talented. But through some various things, it’s taken her a long time, and she really has stuck with it.”

Mastoris earned her certification Jan. 8.

It’s an “extremely rare” feat for a teen around here, Coleman said. Until about a year ago, he headed the flight school at Springfield Beckley Municipal Airport.

The slight 17-year-old speaks the complex navigational lingo like a pro, but with a tinge of everyday humility.

“The first time I saw a sectional (pilot’s map), I almost cried,” she said. “I thought, I’m never going to know what this means.”

And Mastoris is still warming up to night flying, where the darkness sometimes envelops a plane and one has to fly from light source to light source on the ground. It’s “so foreign,” she said.

She doesn’t have her own plane; the flight school has a 1970 Cessna. When a reporter visited, Mastoris couldn’t take off because of low cloud cover. So the Cessna remained something to look at — memories of her 150 hours of flight.

“It was so hard,” she said. “I wanted to give up so many times. But you push through.”

Mastoris may get to pilot the plane again yet. She has been taking Clark State classes through the state’s post-secondary program and plans to finish the flight instructor school there.

Coleman has said if he has enough business, he’ll hire her.

Lessons and flight hours to earn a lifetime certificate usually cost around $6,500, Coleman said. Planes themselves can cost as little as $20,000.

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