Solo flight


16-year-old Air Academy graduate pursues flying

June 8, 2019 — Planning for the future is not usually a quality associated with youth. Many young people are still learning about life and the world at large as teenagers and push concerns regarding careers to the back burner. That is not the case for Elijah LaCosse, a 16-year-old who has just completed a solo airplane flight that will bring him closer to his long-term goal of becoming a professional pilot.

LaCosse has always had an interest in planes and flying and took an opportunity provided to him by local aviators Terry Tomeny and Sam Spayd two years ago to explore this interest.

“I was always interested in building things, but then I started running with a guy who was a retired airline pilot and he turned me onto flying. I had planned on going to the Air Force Academy for a long time — I’m still thinking about doing that — and this is a good way for me to get started,” LaCosse said.

LaCosse, who has been primarily home schooled, is finishing his junior year studies and plans on pursuing some type of aviation-related career, the nature of which will be determined by the costs associated with flight training and related educational and certification requirements.

Earlier this week, LaCosse and Tomeny took an extended trip around the state for the purpose of practicing landing and takeoffs and using instruments to land at the larger and more challenging air traffic situation in play at the Eugene Municipal Airport.

“We did all the flight planning and wrote our course up,” he said. “We took off and climbed to 9,500 feet. Then we flew up to Crater Lake and made a right turn on the outside of the crater so I could take some pictures, which was really cool.”

Tomeny first worked with LaCosse when he attended a two-week seminar sponsored by Tomeny and Spayd called the Air Academy. The classes are offered by the Boys and Girls Club of Western Lane County during the summer so area students can learn about careers in aviation.

“Elijah was in the first Florence Air Academy two years ago,” Tomeny said. “He was focused then as a 14-year old and knew that he wanted to be a pilot. Actually, I flew with him on his flight back then. It’s very rewarding seeing a sharp young man follow his passion, especially now being able to solo him out.”

Tomeny and LaCosse established a bond during the academy. That friendship has continued to the point where Tomeny has taken on a mentorship role with the aspiring young pilot, encouraging him and providing advice as he progresses through the certification and training curriculum needed to become a licensed pilot.

“I was looking to do an introductory flight to make sure I actually wanted to be a pilot. I had never flown before, I’d been in commercial jets, but I’d never flown,” LaCosse said. “I wanted to make sure that before I invested all this time and money, it was actually something I wanted to do.”

LaCosse said he enjoyed his time at the Air Academy and wanted to continue learning, but was confronted by a common obstacle that faces many young people pursuing their dreams: a lack of money.

“After the academy, I was still thinking about getting my pilot’s license, but I knew I didn’t have anywhere near the amount of money, nor did I have the revenue capabilities to make enough money to pay for it and to get it done in a reasonable amount of time,” he said. “But for my birthday, my grandpa said, ‘I have these stocks I have been saving and I can pay for you to get your pilot’s license.’”

The enthusiasm LaCosse feels when discussing his future is infectious. His plans for the future have been dramatically changed thanks to the generosity of his family.

LaCosse and Tomeny are optimistic about his future — and both are determined to keep working towards their goal of obtaining a pilot license for LaCosse.

“Next steps are to teach him navigation and to send him solo to other airports,” Tomeny said. “We will do some night flying and then get him ready to take a check-ride with a flight examiner for his private pilot’s license. But he has to be 17 to do that and his birthday is not until November. He’s progressing so well we may need to slow down.”

When LaCosse was asked to sum up his experiences surrounding flying, his response was as upbeat as could be expected.

“It’s been really awesome. I’ve been progressing really fast. It’s been amazing, a really wonderful experience,” he said. “It’s really hard for me to pinpoint exactly what I like about flying, but I do know there is literally almost nothing that makes me happier.”

The Boys and Girls Club will again offer Air Academy classes this summer during the first two weeks of August. Interested students or families can contact the club at 541-902-0304 or visit bgcwlc.org/ for more information.

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