Merlin Giles was practicing steep turns in a plane Saturday at Gainesville Municipal Airport.
The 12-year-old student pilot — who will enter Gainesville Junior High School in a few weeks — has spent part of the summer sharpening his flying skills.
Merlin said he became interested in earning his pilot license after his Lee Intermediate School class visited the airport through the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Young Eagles program — a nationwide initiative which allows students to fly in general aviation planes.
“When I was in fifth grade at Lee Intermediate we got to come out [to Gainesville Municipal Airport.],” he said. “They talked about how you can become a pilot at a young age and I wanted to do it myself.”
Merlin asked his mother to enroll him in flying lessons. He was fairly persistent, she said.
“We put it off for a while and when I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he said he wanted to learn to fly,” Karen Giles said.
She agreed to pay half the cost of the lesson.
Merlin had to earn the other half. He mowed lawns and made paracord survival bracelets — implements made of strong rope designed to help during emergency situations. He still mows lawns and makes bracelets to help defray the cost of his lessons, Karen Giles said.
Merlin isn’t the youngest pilot ever to fly but instructor Brandon Ayers of Ayers Aviation said Merlin is the youngest student he’s ever taught.
Ayers has to make some adjustments for Merlin including stacking sofa cushions on the seat to help Merlin see out when he’s at the controls.
Giles said she doesn’t worry about her son flying a plane.
“I think I’ll be more worried when he’s driving,” she said. “He’ll get his driver’s license about the same time he gets his pilot license.”
Merlin completes a flying lesson about every six weeks, Karen Giles said.
He’s learning takeoffs, landings and how to deal with electrical emergencies, Ayers said.
“Once he’s 100 percent safe to fly, he’ll be able to go solo,” he said.
Merlin said the only thing that ever scared him was doing “steep turns.”
“It was fun but it was the only time I was scared,” he said.
In addition to teaching pilot skills, Ayers also makes sure his students know how to do a preflight check.
“Just like you wouldn’t want to have your car break down on the road, you don’t want to get out in a plane that’s going to break down,” Ayers said.
Once the plane is deemed safe, he and Merlin are ready to fly the Cessna.
Ayers said he isn’t reluctant to turn the controls to younger students.
“Kids are easier to train than adults,” he said. “Kids don’t really have a fear. They’re kind of in the moment. They enjoy things.”
Merlin’s been busy this summer. He recently returned from a camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center at Marshall Space Flight Center’s Official Visitor Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
The weeklong educational program promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), while training students and adults with hands-on activities and missions based on teamwork, leadership and problem solving, according to a news release.
Merlin also plays piano and is a percussionist in his school band. He participates in boy scouts, his church’s youth group and martial arts.
Karen Giles said she always knew her son would achieve good things.
“Ever since Merlin was very, very little — old enough to talk — he’d ask me to explain things,” Karen Giles said.