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Making a Leep towards the sky

Junior Evan Leeper soars in the sky on his way to becoming a licensed pilot at 17
Photo Courtesy of Evan Leeper
READY FOR TAKE-OFF: Junior Evan Leeper sits tall and ready in a Cessna 172 preparing to knock out some of his mandatory flying hours to obtain his pilots license. Making ahead start toward his dream job of being a cargo or commercial pilot Leeper is inching closer to obtaining his license around July.

The roar of the engine, the sound of flight control, and the elevating feeling of lifting off the ground are nothing new for junior Evan Leeper. Leeper has been working on obtaining his pilot’s license over the past few years. The FAA requires that a person must be 16 to fly alone and be at least 17 years of age before officially obtaining a pilots license. This will be the case of Leeper in July of this year.

“For some people, it takes six months, and for others, it takes a couple of years,” said Leeper. “For me, it’s taken a couple of years because I don’t have the chance to fly that often.”

While technical experience with a plane, like flying in general, is a large portion of the training applicants have to complete to obtain your license, there are other parts to the training that can be more taxing.

“My least favorite part of this process is the bookwork because there’s a lot of it,” said Leeper. “You also have to do specific types of hours flying in the plane, like night hours, solo hours, and instrument condition hours which means you can’t see outside.”

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While no one else in the Leeper family flies planes, his grandpa also shares the same interest in them that he does.

“While he doesn’t have his pilot’s license or fly real planes he does fly remote control planes,” Leeper said. “It’s something we both have such an interest in.”

Leeper has been dreaming of being a pilot since elementary school.

I’ve always been so interested in flying planes and I’ve always wanted to be a pilot either flying cargo planes or an airline carrier.

— Evan Leeper , Junior

“I’ve always been so interested in flying and planes,” Leeper said. “I’ve always wanted to be a pilot either flying a cargo plane or an airline carrier, so I went on a discovery flight and that’s when I decided I wanted to work towards my license.”

Leeper rents planes when he’s working towards his hours, between night training and solo hours.

“I like flying smaller planes right now, they are nice,” Leeper said. “Right now I fly a Cessna 172, it’s a single-engine plane kind of similar to a car engine.”

There were mixed reactions to Leeper’s decision to decide to fly, while his friends were on board, his parents were nervous.

“They seemed hesitant at first, but ended up being supportive,” said Leeper. “And my friends are always asking me to fly them even though I don’t have my license yet, they are supportive.”

With hesitance, Leeper’s parents were still elated with his decision.

“I felt excited, proud, and scared! I was proud of him for wanting to pursue something unique and challenging,” Jessica Leeper, Evan’s mom said. “At the same time, him flying in the air seemed scary and overwhelming especially since he had not even started driving”

Darwin Devers-Hertrz one of Evan’s friends had a few different emotions but landed on one that overwhelmed the others.

“I thought it was cool since you don’t hear often about teens working towards a pilot license,” Devers-Hertz said. “And it is just in general a pretty interesting activity/hobby to be involved in.”

But being a student and in the rigor of classes Evan is in while also trying to meet the specifics of flying hours can be a challenge, and the people in his life saw that when he made the decision he wanted his license.

“I was a little surprised because it sounded intense and like a lot of work especially if you are younger,” Devers-Hertz said, “But, in reality, it is not that bad, and you just gotta keep up with the learning and practicing aspects.”

Since early childhood, Evan has been intrigued by being in the air and aviation.

“Evan became interested in planes in early elementary school,” Jessica said. “When he started flying remote control planes with his Grandfather and going to local airshows.”

Evan is so passionate about aviation that his interests inspired his friends to get a deeper understanding of what flight is all about.

I thought it was cool since you don’t hear often about teens working towards a pilots license, and its just in general a pretty interesting hobby to be involved in.

— Darwin Devers-Hertz , Junior

“I started learning a bit about planes and got a cheap flight simulator setup,” Devers-Hertz said “but I haven’t kept up with it as much as I used to or gone down.”

Evan first started working on his license after a birthday present from his parents.

“We first gifted him a discovery flight for his birthday and he loved it,” Jessica said. “We knew it was something we needed to foster and support so we signed him up for flight lessons.”

With the support of his parents and his friends, Evan is making strides toward his dream job, but there are always risks when it comes to flying.

“The most nerve-wracking part was when I realized he eventually would have to fly alone. I am not sure why I didn’t realize it until the day we went to Lockhart Municipal Airport for his first solo flight,” Jessica said “I was so nervous especially when his instructor told me he had to fly multiple patterns alone. Just the first one was too much.”

While flying is scary and a really interesting hobby to have, it’s not all about the pilot, other aspects go into being able to do the hobby and excel at it, including support from loved ones.

“His dad and I realized quickly that he would need financial support as flying is an expensive hobby,” Jennifer said “He was only around 11 years old so we also had to commit to driving him to Austin Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) and sign lots of paperwork since he is a minor.”

When Evan gets his pilot’s license he has an idea of where he wants to go and what he wants to do.

“I’ve always wanted to fly to Big Bend in Texas, so I want to do trips like that,” Evan said. “And I want to be either a commercial or cargo pilot as a future career so, being able to go places that are fun and fly and also do it for a job is the ultimate goal.”

With supportive family and friends, and a passion for aviation Evan is on the path to his dream job, and pursuing his favorite interest.

“I flew with him and his instructor once when he was in middle school and it was awesome,” Jessica said. “His dad has flown with him several times and the views were great, it been amazing to see him throw himself into something he’s really passionate about and what to pursue a career in aviation.”

This story was originally published on The Dispatch on May 31, 2024.