Steve Landeen, Deseret News
OGDEN — Investigators are still trying to figure out why a single-engine plane went down Sunday in the Virgin River Gorge.
Daulton Whatcott, 19, was flying his brother, 16-year-old Jaxon Whatcott, to a basketball tournament in Las Vegas when the plane went down.
Flight instructors in Utah say student pilots are getting younger and younger, and it’s not uncommon for a 19-year-old to be flying a plane.
Some aviation students will get a private pilot’s license before graduating high school, and instructors say sometimes younger students can make better pilots.
“The office view doesn’t get any better,” said Blake Sanborn, a multi-engine instructor at Cornerstone Aviation, 3811 Airport Road.
That’s what drew Sanborn to aviation. He was 19 and a student at Westminster College when he got his private pilot’s license. Now 30 years old, he’s made aviation his career.
“There are a lot of younger people coming in, I think,” Sanborn said. “I think it’s a great time to start.”
Cornerstone Aviation is one of the largest flight schools in the state, with as many as 150 students a year.
Owner Susan Horstman says most students are college-age, but the interest in aviation often starts young.
Cornerstone handles flight training for Salt Lake Community College and offers programs in three Utah high schools.
“We’ve had people as young as 12. Parents sent their kids up because they love aviation, and parents want to keep the enthusiasm out there,” Horstman said.
A pilot-in-training has to be 16 years old before he or she can fly a solo mission.
Students can get their private pilot’s license when they’re 17, and they have an average of 50 flight hours under their belt, as well as 34 hours of ground school, Horstman said.
But training doesn’t stop there. Pilots undergo continual testing with the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Obviously, it’s your life, so we want to make sure the people we set off on their own are very well-prepared,” she said.
Horstman, who was the first female pilot for Pan American World Airways, says it’s not the age but experience that really matters.
“It’s a matter of training and what their knowledge is,” she said.
With the prevalence of video games, younger students may be more apt to catching on more quickly, Horstman added.
“They’re really pretty good. They’ve been doing all that simulator stuff on the ground for years. They actually learn faster than an older person would,” she said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating what caused the plane crash that killed Daulton and Jaxon Whatcott. The Whatcott brothers' single-engine Cessna 172 went down about 7:30 p.m. Sunday in a rocky and steep terrain area along the Arizona Strip, about 150 feet off I-15 just south of the Virgin River Gorge.
NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said the single-engine Cessna is now in a secure facility, where investigators can document and examine it.
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