Friday, May 16, 2014

Michael Scola: 16-year-old takes to the sky and the highway

MARCO ISLAND — Michael Scola didn’t let any time go to waste. The Marco Island resident, a sophomore at Seacrest Country Day School in Naples, turned 16 on May 8. That morning, he went to the DMV and got his driver’s license at 8:30 a.m., went across the street to the Naples Airport, took and passed his written FAA exam for a private pilot’s license, and at 1 p.m., made his first solo flight from the Immokalee airport, taking off and landing the airplane with no one else aboard.

Of course, Michael had a little headstart in the flying department. He has been flying copilot with his dad, Marco Scola, in the family’s Cirrus SR22 airplane.

This is a high-performance aircraft with complex avionics, a high-powered engine and a price tag to match, and Michael said for him, the toughest aspect of learning to fly has been going back and forth between the Cirrus and the more pedestrian airplanes encountered in flight school.

“This plane is like flying a Mercedes, a sports car,” said Marco. “It has everything digital, touchscreens, collision avoidance, air conditioning, de-icing, everything a ‘triple seven’ (Boeing 777) has.”

The Cirrus also comes with one special feature, that is near and dear to his mother’s heart: a parachute, not for the passengers, but for the entire plane.

“Right behind the seat, there’s a rocket. Deploy it, and in eight seconds you’re parachuting to earth. Pretty much everyone who pulls that handle lives,” said Marco. A realtor and president of the local Independent Brokers Realty franchise, the elder Scola uses the plane to tour prospects around, and commute to check his holdings to the north.

“I own a lot of property in Georgia and North Carolina,” and the Cirrus lets him get to it easily, he said.

“I was scared to death. I hate flying,” said Michael’s mother Rosa Scola, a CPA. “That’s whether it’s an airliner or whatever. We had another little plane, and I wouldn’t go near it.”

She told her husband the only way she would fly was in “the one with the parachute, and he called my bluff,” she said. The cost to call Mrs. Scola’s bluff would be about $750,000 for a new Cirrus, although Marco said he bought used, at about half the price.

Michael can’t get his actual full-fledged pilot’s license until he turns 17, but with his first solo under his belt, he is now ready to undertake two longer cross country solo flights, of 50 and 100 miles, readying him for his license. Marco has earned a commercial pilot’s license and an instrument rating, but while he certainly taught his son a thing or two about flying, Michael still had to go through the regular ground school and flight training through an accredited flight school.

Of course, having the funds to buy an airplane doesn’t give the skill to fly it.

“Once you roll down that runway, and pull back the stick, you’re committed,” said Marco.

In addition to flying, Michael enjoys tinkering in the garage, boating and kayaking. His dad said he expects him to go into something related to engineering or finance as a profession. While he attends Seacrest, as does older sister Danielle, a junior, Michael will go to Lely High School next year for one course, the aviation program they are offering.

“Michael is paying for his own flight school,” said Marco. “We clean out a lot of houses for banks, and he grabs stuff that people leave in there, and sells it on eBay. That pays for his flying.”

Back on the ground, getting his own wheels probably makes more immediate difference in Michael’s life. He has a shiny Ford F-150 pickup truck, the mirror image of his dad’s, except bright red rather than midnight black. So far, he says, he has only used it to go back and forth to school, starting the day after his birthday.

Michael also has a “project car, a ’74 Alfa Romeo my grandpa gave me,” and he’s restoring it “slowly,” said his dad. In fairness, it’s not as though he doesn’t have enough to do to fill up his days.

Story and photo gallery:

Michael Scola with solo certificate and family plane. Scola, who turned 16 on May 8, got his driver's license, passed his FAA written pilot's test, and earned his flying solo certificate all on that morning.