Latrobe teen's pilot dream becoming reality

| Monday, Sept. 28, 2009

Sixteen-year-old Michael Nicely recently marked two rites of passage.

He earned a learner's permit to drive a car — and a student pilot certificate to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.

Nicely, of Latrobe, earned the pilot certificate after about a year of study at the Westmoreland Aviation Academy at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity.

"I'm pretty excited," he said after passing his first solo flight test on Sept. 16, his 16th birthday. "I can't wait to get up there again."

Nicely's flight instructor, Bill Wright, watched from below as Nicely soared through the skies over the Unity airport in a four-seat Piper Cherokee 180. Nicely landed the aircraft smoothly on the runway.

Wright promptly signed Nicely's student endorsement certificate, much to the delight of his mother, Carol Nicely, and grandparents Ed and Jane Chronowski of McIntyre, Indiana County.

"I was proud. He did really well ... for the first time by himself. You'd think he'd be shook up, but not so much," said Ed Chronowski, 72.

Chronowski, a former aviation metalsmith in the Marine Corps, spent much of Nicely's formative years building ultra-light airplanes and helicopters. He even built a runway on his 63-acre property.

Nicely's uncle, Ron Yvanek, owns and operates Airwork Avionics, an aircraft equipment and installation company in Indiana.

"From the time he displayed an interest, I could see Michael taking flying to a professional level," Yvanek said.

That's exactly what Nicely wants to do.

"I'd like to join the Navy one day and fly an S-22 Raptor. They're the latest planes and it's been really interesting to read about them," Nicely said.

Reading, along with countless hours spent using flight simulators on his personal computer, have prepared Nicely for the tests he faces in his quest to earn a private pilot license.

"He's very knowledgeable . . . he knows all the details about flying," his mother said.

To become licensed, Nicely must log at least 40 hours of flight time with an instructor and in solo flights, according to Chris Dancy, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Frederick, Md.

That's in addition to completing three hours of solo flying at night, a solo trek of 100 nautical miles, extensive written and oral exams, and a practical licensing test with a Federal Aviation Administration official, Dancy said.

"It takes a very focused young person to do this. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline because there's so much to learn," Dancy said. "You have to understand weather and federal air space regulations. There's a lot to it."

Nicely said he is confident he'll one day be landing fighter jets on aircraft carriers.

"Living so close to an airport, the idea of flying just kind of came to me. It's what I want to do," Nicely said.

The federal government requires people to be at least 17 to earn a private piloting license, Dancy said.

In 2008, 11,562 people ages 16 to 19 earned student pilot certifications nationwide, Dancy said.

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