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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rotorcraft Report: Youngest Pilot Awaits Critical Birthday

PERSONAL | RATINGS

On July 21, 2008, 16-year old Errick Smith became the youngest pilot to solo a helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft on the same day. In fact, Smith soloed in two helicopters — a Robinson R44 and a Schweizer 300 CBi — and a Cessna 172 in Ocean Springs, Miss. But even without the second helicopter, Smith beat the old world record by six months.

With the anniversary of that accomplishment approaching, Smith only has one thing in mind, "In the short term, I plan to acquire both my fixed-wing and rotary-wing license after I turn 17 on July 21, 2009," he told Rotor & Wing. "I have a few more hours to log in both types of aircraft, as well as my written tests, then my check ride and ticket!"

Smith has wanted to be a pilot since the age of eight when he flew with his uncle, Patrick Kelly, an aerial photographer based in Atlanta. "Aviation had always been an interesting subject for me, but that first flight in a Robinson R44 sealed the deal. I knew that I was going to have to learn to fly," Smith said. "At the time I was not sure how I was going to pull it off or even when I was going to be able pull it off. But I had set my mind on it and I wasn’t going to let anything come in between me and my dream." For the record, Smith started flight training at age 14. He started first in fixed-wing aircraft "because it is less expensive and I could use some of the hours I accumulated toward my helicopter commercial rating."

When Smith learned that the world record for soloing was held by a 16-and-half-year old, "I was determined to break that record...but before my 16th birthday, I learned someone beat me to it," he said. "This caused me to change my plans. My new plan was to solo an airplane and three helicopters on my 16th birthday. Due to mechanical difficulties, the third helicopter was grounded. However, I was successful in setting a new world record by soloing the airplane and two helicopters on my 16th birthday."

"Errick is what I call a natural," said Blake Moore, owner of Air Atlanta Helicopters, where Smith took his final training. "His control touch was excellent right away. He was willing to listen in the classroom and also followed instruction very well in the helicopter."

"As the owner and chief flight instructor, I had the opportunity to fly with Errick on quite a few occasions," Moore said. "Was I surprised [that he succeeded]? Yes and no — I was surprised that a 15 year old, almost 16, had this much desire and passion for aviation. But I was not surprised as to how well he did on his 16th birthday."

Today, Smith is looking ahead to college, where he wants to get a degree in aeronautical engineering. "I would like to land a job flying helicopters and private jets for a company," he said. "Eventually, I would like to move to Colorado and open an aircraft charter company that also offers fixed-wing and rotor-wing training, tours, and rentals."

"I have always been one to aim big and never give up on my dreams," Smith concluded. "Hard work, determination and sticking with it paid off this time. I would also like to spread my story as much as possible in hopes that others my age and even younger will discover their dreams, whether they be aviation related or not, and realize that nothing is out of their reach!"

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