A Southwest flight pilot may never invite a passenger to the cabin, but sophomore Andrew Wan was lucky enough to be randomly chosen to see what he always wanted to see — the plane’s cockpit. Eight years later, this experience and his early interest in planes inspired him to begin taking flight lessons.
Wan trains with the SoCal Flying Club academy, which offers one to two-hour flight lessons. During each lesson, Wan flies the Diamond DA40 Diamond Star — a single engine, four-seater plane — to learn a new fundamental or fix past mistakes.
“What amazed me was that my childhood dream had come true. I was actually standing in the cockpit right in front of the entire control panel. [The pilot] gave me a [good luck] badge and patted me on the head. It was the best feeling in the world,” Wan said.
The pilot also wished Wan luck on his journey towards his career as a pilot. Ever since he was five years old, Wan has been interested in planes; in 2014 he decided to be a pilot and began attending flight lessons at KEMT Airport in El Monte and KPOC Brackett Field Airport in La Verne.
“I saw the cockpit and was just overwhelmed and amazed by what pilots are capable of,” Wan said. “It was a bit overwhelming because I didn’t know what all [the controls] were until the instructor told me what they were, and I was afraid I might mess up something if I pressed the wrong thing.”
On his first training flight, Wan learned how to conduct the preflight checklist. His instructor familiarized Wan with all the screens, gauges, indicators and gears on the dashboard. When airborne, Wan learned how to conduct climbs, make turns, perform descents and handle turbulence.
“It’s a bit hard to get a 30-degree bank on point everytime, [and] I’m always slightly off,” Wan said. “Making sharp turns and gliding through the air [like that] makes me feel like a bird soaring through the sky.”
Throughout the flight, Wan must communicate with ground control to verify his status and keep the plane from drifting into the Temporary Flight Restriction zone (TFR), an area in which pilots are not allowed to fly. He also has to react promptly to advisories to prevent mechanical issues and ensure the safety of himself and his passengers.
“I’m not going to lie. I do have a lot of pressure on my shoulders, but it’s really a great experience and it teaches me a life lesson: to focus on everything you do and never give up,” Wan said. “This is my main motivation.”
This February, Wan will turn 16 and qualify to take the ground license test; this gives him the privilege to fly his own plane independently. After Wan receives his degree and graduates from flight school, he is considering joining the Air Force or flying as a commercial pilot.
“Patience, high perception, a certain amount of skill and most importantly focus are traits a good pilot needs,” Wan said. “[But] the truly extraordinary pilots are the ones who actually enjoy flying and have a passion for it.”
By Phillip Leung, Staff writer
Photo courtesy of Andrew Wan