2013-09-20 / People

High school student with license to fly

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK – Jonah Desrochers, a junior at Kennebunk High School, has been taking flying lessons since he could barely reach the plane’s pedals.

This summer, when Desrochers turned 17, he earned his pilot’s license and was, for a time, the youngest pilot in the country.

Desrochers, who also plays on the golf and tennis teams at the high school, said his desire to obtain his private pilot license began with a family friend who is a pilot for one of the country’s largest airlines.

“My first flight in a small airplane was through the Experimental Aircraft Association’s ‘Young Eagles’ program,” Desrochers said. “The program grants young, aspiring aviators a free ride in a small plane with a volunteer pilot.”

“After my first flight with the program, I knew it was something that I wanted to pursue,” Desrochers said.


Jonah Desrochers, a junior at Kennebunk High School, earned his pilot’s license this summer on his 17th birthday through Southern Maine Aviation at the Sanford Regional Seacoast Airport. Desrochers has been flying since he was 13 and plans to pursue a career as a commercial pilot. (Courtesy photos) Jonah Desrochers, a junior at Kennebunk High School, earned his pilot’s license this summer on his 17th birthday through Southern Maine Aviation at the Sanford Regional Seacoast Airport. Desrochers has been flying since he was 13 and plans to pursue a career as a commercial pilot. (Courtesy photos) Tall enough to reach the pedals, he started taking lessons at Southern Maine Aviation at the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport after his 13th birthday.

Desrochers flew solo for the first time on his 16th birthday.

To earn his license, however, the Federal Aviation Administration states that recreational pilots must be at least 17 years of age. One of the more rigorous steps to achieve a pilot’s license, in addition to passing a practical exam, is to clock in 40 hours of flight time.

“This includes night flight, cross-country flights – meaning airports more than 50 nautical miles away– 10 hours of solo flight, etc.,” Desrochers said.

“My flight instructor was truly the one who suggested doing the practical exam on my birthday,” Desrochers said.

At first, the idea of getting his pilot’s license as soon as he was legally able had not crossed Desrochers’ mind; however, it soon became an “intriguing prospect.”

Desrcochers didn’t want to leave anything up to chance such as the way many people don’t study diligently for a driver’s license exam.

He wanted to make certain he met all of the requirements before the formal test.

“In the early stages, my instructor would accompany me on relatively short flights around the area of the Sanford airport, practicing basic aeronautical maneuvers, emergency procedures and landings,” Desrochers said. “On my 16th birthday, I completed my first solo flight. From that point, I was able to, with certain restrictions, fly by myself,” Desrochers said.

Once Desrochers procured his license, it made him a bit of a celebrity among his friends.

“A lot of people, naturally, ask for rides after getting your license, which is fun to do,” Desrochers said. “Aviation has brought so much joy and passion to me, and it feels so great to be able to pass that on to others,” said Desrochers of a friend he inspired to also earn his pilot’s license.

When asked if she was nervous when Jonah first began showing interest in earning his pilot’s license, his mother, Judy Desrochers, said not particularly. “People ask me, ‘Doesn’t that make you nervous, that he’s flying alone?’ This is the way I think about it: there’s a traffic accident involving a teenager almost every day, yet if people thought that way, they’d never let their kid in a car,” said Judy Desrochers. “I think, ‘Wow, you really can’t live your life that way.’ Life can be pretty dull when you don’t take risks. I’m glad my kids are more ambitious than I was when I was their age.”

She noted how funny it is that Jonah doesn’t even have his driver’s license yet.

“Jonah wanted to take his girlfriend up for a flight, and it was so funny that I had to drive them both to the airport so he could fly her around alone. It’s pretty interesting,” Judy Desrochers said.

Desrochers said his dream is to become a commercial airline pilot; however, “through the process of getting my private pilot license, I have learned to love small airplanes as well,” Desrochers said. “And the best part is, even if my career plans totally fall apart, I will have the private license for the rest of my life.”

When asked what his favorite thing about flying is, Desrochers responded, “You are completely free from the bounds of the claustrophobic nature of the ground. All conflicts that arise on the ground, whether it is crime, politics, or war, seem so insignificant and petty from above.”

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