Someday Chance White would like to do what Gordon Hunter did more than 50 years ago, and be a fighter pilot.
White took his first step towards that dream about six weeks ago on the runway at the Apalachicola Regional Airport, and last month Hunter honored that step, in a brief ceremony at the airport’s upstairs conference room, with the marks of a military tradition.
With the snip of a scissors, White’s flight instructor, Mike Smith, a retired Marine from Bay County, sliced the 19-year-old’s tie in two, a symbol that he had completed his first solo flight.
On May 16, White, son of Sherry and Michael White of Eastpoint, spent about a half-hour in the air above the airport all by himself, behind the controls of John Weaver’s Cessna 150.
“I was a nervous wreck and had to say a little prayer,” said White. “It was the best thing I’ve ever done after that. I won’t ever forget it.”
Since then, with his newly minted student pilot certificate, White has flown solo about five times, as he sets his sights on his private pilot certificate, which requires quite a bit more additional training.
To earn that pilot certificate, White will have to complete more than double the 12 hours of flying he had under his belt when he soloed.
“He learned how to control the aircraft and how to use the controls properly, how to take off and land, and how to safely operate the airplane,” said Smith.
White will have to have 40 hours of flying time to qualify for that pilot certificate, a minimum of 20 hours of dual instruction, and 10 hours minimum of solo time.
As he did before his solo, White will have to pass a written test, and it will be even more rigorous, before he can fly with a designated pilot examiner.
The testing is all based on Airmen Certification Standards, covering an extensive range of needed knowhow.
“He’ll have to master all the tasks that he’s going to require to perform for that examiner,” Smith said. “He’ll have to be able to preflight, determine how much runaway he’s going to use, how much he will need to land how much fuel he will need to burn.
“And he will have to perform certain maneuvers, steep bank turns, power off and power on, stalls, ground reference maneuvers,” he said. “Handle windy conditions, and demonstrate different takeoffs and landings such as from grass or short fields, and above all demonstrate how to do cross country planning and flight.”
As it stands now, White is limited in what he can do as a student pilot, but he is allowed a hop, skip and a jump, from Marianna to Panama City and back, which he planned to do this week. In the fall he'll be in Pensacola, where he is earnign associate's degree.
White began his pilot training with Robert Mitchell, with Strikehawk Aviation, before Smith stepped in to complete the task of creating a student pilot.
“Very few times do you get somebody like Chance, you can tell him one time or twice and he’s got it,” he said. “He pays attention and can grasp the concept.”
The biggest obstacle in the way of a talented young pilot like White is the costs of instruction, which could average $4,000 to $6,000. “I’m at $2,200 into it now,” he said.
One big boost in White’s budding pilot career was a $1,000 scholarship he received from Centric Aviation, the airport’s fixed base operator.
Centric introduced the scholarships last year, and think highly enough of White they’ve hired him on the airport’s line tech crew. “He went through our extensive line tech training course and is an excellent part of our team, said Tara Maugham, who together with Andrew Hartman co-owns Centric.
Whtie is just one of about nine local people who work at the airport. Chena Segree, who cross trained to work on both the customer service and line tech teams, is a team supervisor.
Weaver, retired from the Army, is a line tech, as well, as is Mark Vail, retired from the Coast Guard, and Kevin Newell, a deputy sheriff who works at the airport part-time.
Brooke Martina and Adriane Elliott both work for customer service, and Jay Cooper handles grounds maintenance.
Maugham and Hartman both attended the organizational meeting June 22 for the Friends of the Apalachicola regional Airport (FARA), with about 15 people in attendance.
“Our numbers are actually up over 50 now and growing as people hear about our group and are interested in participating in or just supporting airport initiatives,” said Hunter, who has led the formation of the group.
Maugham and Harman reported that they have a small fleet of their own rental cars for people who use the airport. The change in part came about because the previous firm, Enterprise, got out of the local business in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.
White was joined by student pilot Keith Whitehead in the tie-cutting ceremony. Hunter plans to put the now-tiny ties as part of a small museum display section at the airport, which so far mainly consists of photos and artifacts from the Camp Gordon Johnson Museum related to aviation.
FARA formed six committees, including Economic Development, intended to find ways to promote the airport to entice businesses to move here; History, to gather historical information on the airport and to collect artifacts to contribute to a World War II Air Museum at the airport Infrastructure, to study the airport layout and to recommend improvements to the airfield; Political Action, to support the airport in working with the county commission to improve the management and business plan of the airport; and Youth Outreach, to encourage and participate in programs to serve the youth of the area such as the Young Eagles and the Civil Air Patrol.
Kelly Moseley was on hand to give an overview of the local Civil Air Patrol program that local kids are involved in, together with the Panama City unit.
For more information on FARA, call Hunter at (404) 725-8156.