Jumping in Head First
Young pilot mastering glass cockpits
By Kit Warfield
"The future of aviation is here." How many times have we read that before? If young pilots like Derek Diaz represent the future of aviation, then it is in good hands.
Derek is no ordinary 15 year old. Oh sure, he has a schedule full of soccer tournaments, and probably shares the usual sibling squabbles with his sister. But how many 15 year olds do you know who have logged more time in glass cockpits than any other kind of flying?
Derek is the type of pilot who, on his sixteenth birthday, will not just solo. The joke around the flight school is that Derek will be offered the keys to whichever airplane he wants to fly, and told to "Have it back by sundown." His solo will adhere to the requirements of the federal aviation regulations, of course, but the sentiment represents the impression he's made around the flight school.
"I just love the freedom" says Derek. "I love the idea of flying somewhere, and finding yourself in a different place, just a short time later. I like the idea of flying my family."
His love for aviation was kindled at an early age. His grandparents owned a Cessna 172, based at a beautiful private airstrip called Diamond Point, overlooking the strait of Juan de Fuca. Young Derek, sitting on a cushion or two, would accompany his grandfather on fuel runs to nearby Port Angeles.
Derek's father, also a pilot, not only flies airplanes, but also helps to build them, as a computer engineer at Boeing. And Derek's aunt flies for SkyWest Airlines.
Derek's flying experience to date includes time logged in the venerable 172, the Columbia 400, and the Diamond DA40. In fact, more than half of Derek's total time is in glass cockpits. He's also racked up hours in simulators for the Diamond DA42 Twin Star and the Boeing 747-400.
Derek is a highly experienced Microsoft Flight Simulator pilot as well. "I fly on Flight Sim every day," he says "I like to fly the DA42, the DA40, and then for some aerobatics, the Extra 300."
"He's got a professional attitude in the airplane," says Meltzer. "In the two and a half years that I've been teaching Derek, his maturity has really developed. He's an impressive young person."
Meltzer recalled a lesson in which he simulated an engine failure in the Diamond DA40 that he and Derek were flying. Derek took one quick look at Meltzer, turned the aircraft back toward the airport, and smoothly brought it in for a perfect landing. No sweat.
What differences does Derek observe in flying a glass-cockpit airplane as opposed to one with conventional instrumentation? "Well, in glass, everything's together. You have a bigger GPS but smaller radios." He adds, "I'm afraid of losing part of aviation by losing the old gauges. I think Richard Bach said something like that."
As a junior at Seattle's Aviation High School, Derek is well placed for a career in aviation. He says that corporate or charter flying is enticing him, with a college education first, of course. In the meantime, when hes not flying or studying, he's off playing soccer in the Puget Sound Area.