Flying Solo: Junior just weeks away from earning his wings

By: Nathan Hoy

The only thing separating junior Justin Gray from the 10,000 foot plummet to earth is a thin sheet of aluminum that holds together the small, two-seater Cessna 152 airplane that he flies across the sky.

Gray spends his weekends soaring across the sky, piloting a small plane across the open fields of Iowa, and it’s a flight toward a life-long dream. “I’ve always been interested in travel. I had a few small plane flights when I was a kid and knew it was something I wanted to do,” he said.

Gray first saw his opening when he learned that his church priest was a flight instructor, and he capitalized on this opportunity by asking his priest to teach him how to fly.

Pilot Mike Wiskus and his passenger, Justin Gray, 15, of Cedar Falls, went for a cruise Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, after the air show ended. Below is Cedar Falls and the UNI-Dome.

Pilot Mike Wiskus and his passenger, Justin Gray, 15, of Cedar Falls, went for a cruise Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, after the air show ended. Below is Cedar Falls and the UNI-Dome.

To be able to obtain a full license, pilots must be 17 and pass all requirements, including 40 hours in the sky with a certain amount  of hours at night and passing an FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) exam. Gray sailed over these requirements in February and is now eagerly awaiting Dec. 12 when he will turn 17 and receive his full pilot’s license.

For most of his training, he flew in a Cessna 152, which is a smaller airplane only containing two seats. Throughout his flying career, however, Gray has also flown in a few Pipers, and they are a little nicer airplane than a little 152.

Gray flies mainly on weekends, and this passion of his does not stop in the winter. Flying is a full-time, year-round gig for the high flying, adventure seeking junior.

The only real difference between the full pilot’s license and the intermediate license is that one can haul passengers and fly at night with a full license, but with an intermediate license one can only fly cross country if approved by an instructor.

“I’m completely in control by myself,” Gray said. “There are no obstacles.”

Rising above the clouds and leaving the ground for a few hours is Gray’s way of getting away from the world and feeling like nothing can stop him.

Flying for fun is not where this hobby stops for Gray. In his mind, this hobby will someday turn into a career and a lifestyle.

Reflecting on his passion for flying, Gray sits back in his chair as a slight smirk appears on his face. “I hope to be an air show aerobatic pilot or commercial airline pilot some day,” he said. “I love a little risk. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be pursuing the career I am.”

Gray grins and laughs a little more. “This summer I went flying with my instructor to practice flying in the clouds. The engine started to run rough, so we turned back, but it was very unreliable. When we got back, there was no power being given off. Everything was vibrating, and the radio even fell off the compartment. You just really never know what’s going to happen. That’s the fun of it.”

As Gray comes in for landing, messing with all the dials, switches and knobs, he is more confident than ever trusting the hours of experience he already has. He can’t help but smile from ear to ear as he thinks about the possibility of flying and living out his passion for the rest of his life.

image00The second the wheels hit the ground, the only thing on Gray’s mind is the next time those same wheels will lift off from the cold hard pavement and fly above the world full of worries and be free from it all.

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