Matthew Reed got behind the controls of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk with two passengers at the East Texas Regional Airport.
Matthew and his passengers donned headsets with microphones for communication.
He listened to a weather report on the radio and notified the tower at the airport about his plans to take off, then revved up the four-seat single-engine plane and taxied on the runway.
Within minutes, the plane took off with Matthew’s hands steady on the yoke, the steering wheel of the plane.
As the aircraft climbed to an altitude of 3,000 feet, his passengers took in the horizon of a vast swath of flat, green woodlands. Soon, the Sabine River came into view along with factories in South Longview.
Some landmarks were readily recognizable as Matthew headed as far north as Hensley Park and back to the airport: Lobo Stadium at Longview High School and the Komatsu plant’s domes.
“You are up there,” Matthew said after he landed. “You don’t think about anything but flying. You are not worried about anything. It’s kind of relaxing.”
Matthew, 17, and a junior at Longview High School, said he is seriously considering a career as a commercial pilot, and he and four other area teenagers are getting a head start by taking lessons from Raymond Spengler Jr., president-master instructor of Skypark Aviation.
Spengler said he has taught teens off and on during his 18 years as a flight instructor, but has seen more interest lately.
“There is more demand now because the airlines are desperate for pilots,” Spengler said. “A lot of the pilots are retiring.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 4 percent increase in the need for airline and commercial pilots from 2016 to 2026 — that’s an additional 4,400 jobs.
The increase is slower than the average for all occupations, according to the online Occupational Handbook of the bureau. However, it states, “Most job opportunities will arise from the need to replace (airline) pilots who leave the workforce. Over the next 10 years, many pilots are expected to retire as they reach the required retirement age of 65.”
By then, Matthew and fellow students Brooks Chandler, 16, and Payton Holman, 17, may be on the road — or in the air — toward careers in commercial aviation.
“I want to be a pilot,” said Brooks, a junior at Spring Hill High School. “I’m thinking about becoming a commercial pilot. I’m not completely sure.”
Payton, a senior at Hallsville High School, said a friend who studied aviation at LeTourneau University and became a U.S. Navy pilot talked about “how good it is” to pursue aviation as a career. He said he wants to become a corporate pilot.
Meanwhile, Payton, Brooks, Mattthew and two other teenage students are getting valuable training on the ground and in the air from Spengler, a former commercial pilot and U.S. Army veteran.
They undergo at least 40 hours of flight instruction in the air, Spengler said. They also show up at the airport at least one or two days a week for lessons.
The aspiring pilots need to learn about the weather, how to communicate on the radio, navigational skills, rules and regulations and how to handle potential emergencies, Spengler said.
“The main thing is to teach them to became safe, confident pilots,” he said.
Spengler said the pilots fly at an altitude of 3,000 to 8,000 feet and travel as far as Dallas or Waco when they train after school.
The students have to be 18 or older before they may apply to become commercial pilots and must take a written test on rules, regulations, airspace and more, Spengler said. They also must undergo a check ride with an appointed examiner from the Federal Aviation Administration.
“If they pass, they may fly any single-engine plane,” Spengler said, adding his former students have a 100 percent pass rate.
Matthew is the only one of Spengler’s young students who is allowed to fly solo as he has a private pilot’s license, Spengler said. The license allows him to take passengers.
The Longview High junior, who plans to attend LeTourneau University, said he started flying at age 15 and has logged 130 hours in the air.
He said he likes the freedom of being up in the air.
“You can load up in a plane. You can go anywhere that you want. You can fly to Tyler for lunch.”