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Dad, can I have the keys to the plane?

Vaughn gets pilot's license before diploma

Calvin Vaughn (right) and his grandfather, Terry Hart, pose with a 1978 Cardinal Classic. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
December 22, 2010 - For most teenagers, the most exciting accomplishment of their high school years is obtaining the coveted driver's license, so they can hit the open road.

But for Addison resident Calvin Vaughn, his most thrilling feat was earning his pilot's license last month, so he can soar off into the wild blue yonder.

"It's something cool that not a lot of people do," said the Lake Orion High School senior, who will turn 18 in January. "It's (a skill) that can never be taken away from you. There's a free feeling when you're up in the air."

Vaughn is the third generation of his family to earn his pilot's license. Both his father, Mike Vaughn, who owns Vaughn Custom Sports (550 S. Glaspie St.) in Oxford, and his grandfather, Terry Hart, have their licenses.

"When I turned 16 my dad and grandpa mentioned it to me," Vaughn said. "At first, I wasn't really interested, but then I did what they call a 'discovery flight' and I really liked it and I decided I was going to pursue it."

Offered by most flight schools, a discovery flight involves going up with an instructor, who introduces the prospective student to the plane, answers their questions and explains the process of getting a license.

Vaughn started the process in June and tried to go up in the air an average of three times per week during the summer.

Although he'd flown with his father and grandfather as a kid, he admitted it was a whole different experience sitting in the pilot's seat.

"It was a lot to take in," Vaughn said. "But you just had to work hard, keep calm and keep cool about everything. It came to me."

Although a person can start training at any age, the minimum to do a solo flight is 16, while the minimum to get a license is 17.

"I guess I did it as early as you can," Vaughn said.

The law requires a minimum of 40 hours in the air to obtain a pilot's license. Vaughn logged 65 hours of flight time, which is just under the national average of about 70 hours.

His most challenging experiences were the solo and cross-country flights.

Vaughn's first solo flight involved flying around the Dupont-Lapeer Airport, where he did his training.

"It was kind of overwhelming, but I just followed the steps and it all worked out good," he said.

His cross-country flight involved flying to a point more than 50 miles away. For that, Vaughn flew to a small airport in Jackson, Michigan. He did that twice, once with his instructor and once on his own.

"I was pretty confident," Vaughn said. "I did a lot of planning. Since I flew it with my instructor, I knew what to expect."

In order to obtain his pilot's license, Vaughn had to pass two tests, a written one and a "check ride" with an examiner from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Right now, Vaughn's license is rated for Visual Flight Rules only, which means he can only fly in weather conditions that are generally clear enough to allow a pilot to see where the aircraft is going.

For instance, he can't fly through clouds.

"I can fly below and around clouds, I just can't be in them," he said.

In order to fly through clouds, Vaughn would have to possess an Instrument Rating, which requires another minimum of 40 hours in the air.

"A lot of people say that's actually harder than getting your pilot's license," he said.

Vaughn's going to pursue his Instrument Rating on the side while attending Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida.

He noted that obtaining his pilot's license was excellent preparation for college life.

"It really teaches you how to study," Vaughn said. "I feel like that's going to help me a lot in college because professors aren't like high school teachers where they help you out a lot. You have to have enough self-discipline to learn on your own."

For now, Vaughn wants to enjoy his new ability and share it with his friends.

"I'd like to go up north with my friends or maybe down to Sandusky (Ohio) for a day, go to Cedar Point. I think that would be a cool trip," he said.

He would also like to take his father and grandfather for a ride through the sky.

Grandfather Terry Hart, of Lake Orion, is certainly looking forward to it. He couldn't be prouder of his high-flying grandson.

"I think it's the greatest thing in the world for a young fella like him to do or anyone to do at that age," said Hart, who got his pilot's license in the late 1960s. "Of all the young people in the United States today, how many of them are willing to step forward and take a challenge like that? It's quite an accomplishment as far as I'm concerned."

"It takes a lot of discipline," Hart added. "You have to really apply yourself. You give up a lot (while) learning, but it's something you're going to have (for) the rest of your life."

Vaughn's grandfather noted only 20 percent of those who attempt to get their pilot's license make it. The rest either dropout or fail.

With "less and less" student pilots these days, having a pilot's license is an increasingly valuable thing.

"It's a career you can always fall back on," Hart said.

Vaughn agreed.

Although he plans to study business in college and is considering becoming a financial planner, he knows that if it doesn't work out, he can always get his other aviation ratings and become a commercial or charter pilot.

But again, that's a fallback. He'd much rather fly as a hobby.

"It's just a whole different view from up top," he said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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