Crash of teen on around-the-world flight raises question: How young is too young?
The Indianapolis Star, Robert Scheer, File, Associated Press
The deadly crash of a teenager on an around-the-world flight brought new attention to the dangers of record-setting youth adventures, and questions about how young is too young to fly a plane.
Yet pilots and flight instructors say that while some question the ability of kids and teens to deal with unforeseen difficulties, training matters more than age.
They say the real danger is when pilots push the boundaries of safety to set records for speed or youth, as Indiana teenager Haris Suleman, a newly licensed pilot, was attempting when his plane went down in the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday.
Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the 17-year-old's plane to crash as he attempted to set a record for the fastest flight around the world in a single-engine airplane with the youngest pilot in command to do so.
Here are some key questions and answers about the issue:
HOW OLD DO YOU NEED TO BE TO GET A PILOT LICENSE?
The Federal Aviation Administration allows 16-year-old student airplane pilots to make solo flights, but they're prohibited from having passengers and are heavily supervised by an instructor who closely monitors their flight from the ground.
A private airplane pilot's license can be obtained at 17. It often takes more than required 40 hours of flight time to be ready to pass the licensing exam.
CAN CHILDREN FLY WITH INSTRUCTORS AT YOUNGER AGES?
The FAA doesn't restrict young teenagers or children from taking flying lessons, and programs offer various degrees of experience.
The Experimental Aircraft Association runs a Young Eagles program were children as young as 8 can go on flights and help maneuver some controls, but the pilots are always in control of the plane, said spokesman Dick Knapinski. For example, a pilot may allow a child to help with a gentle turn.
Spencer Clark, a 15-year-old from Atlanta, said he started flying lessons at age 11, progressing from maneuvering some controls and contacting the traffic control tower to flying the plane by himself. Spencer said starting lessons as early as he did gave him years to practice for the solo flights he's almost allowed to make.
Some people questioned whether it was safe to start flying that young, but Spencer said kids and teens often make better students by starting with less ego and self-assurance. Often, he said, they have more dexterity and quicker reflexes from years playing with video-games or remote-controlled planes.
WHAT ABOUT AROUND-THE-WORLD ADVENTURES?
Some in the aviation industry say being a young pilot isn't as risky as trying to be a record-setting pilot.
Many questioned such efforts after 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff, her father and a flight instructor were killed in a 1996 crash in Cheyenne, Wyoming, during her attempt to become the youngest person to fly across the country. The National Transportation Safety Board later ruled pressure from national media attention may have contributed to the crash.
Stephen Belt, a flight instructor, pilot and chair of the aviation science department at Saint Louis University, said that while it's not clear what caused Suleman's plane to crash, generally anyone trying to set a record "is putting a tremendous amount of pressure on themselves to achieve something."
"You're faced with this desire to achieve your goal and push the limits of your ability, the airplane's ability," he said. "The more epic the adventure, the more pressure you're putting on yourself to continue."
Guinness World Records will not recognize attempts to break piloting records by those under 16 because of concerns about what's safe or appropriate for young people.
WHAT'S THE RISK OF YOUNG PEOPLE TRYING TO BREAK RECORDS?
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