Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Admiral Farragut takes flight training full throttle

When most of his fellow 12th-graders were sitting in an Admiral Farragut Academy classroom Thursday morning, 17-year-old Sangdo Lee was flying above them at about 2,500 feet.

At 10:30, he and fellow senior Jonathan Ducommon completed a preflight inspection of their rented Cessna Skyhawk at Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg. After a thorough walk-around of the plane, Lee headed toward the cockpit, his flight instructor and a St. Petersburg Times reporter in tow.

Lee has been taking aviation classes at Admiral Farragut for a few years and flying for a few months. He's on track to become a licensed pilot before he's licensed to drive a car.

Last Thursday was the first time he had flown with a passenger. This was much-needed practice because one day he hopes to return to his native South Korea and fly for Korean Air.

"I've actually flown a plane more than I've driven a car," the young pilot casually remarked as he strapped himself into the pilot's seat — hardly a reassuring statement to his passenger with a white-knuckle grip on the seat cushion in the rear of the plane.

Yet the student's knowledge of aviation procedure was already well developed. He methodically completed his preflight checklist with the help of instructor Robert Ewing, a licensed pilot and aviation teacher at Admiral Farragut. After scanning the electronic flight controls of the Cessna's entirely digital "glass" cockpit, Lee primed the engine for startup. He then slowly taxied to Runway 6 as Ewing communicated with the control tower to clear the plane for takeoff.

Both Lee and Ducommon are enrolled in Admiral Farragut's new Aviation Academy program. Farragut is a coed private military boarding and day school in St. Petersburg serving pre-K to grade 12.

"It started out as a small elective class for a few students interested in trying something new," Ewing, the director of the aviation program, explained. Flight training has always been offered at the school, but the huge popularity of the program inspired it to grow into several full-credit courses.

The new expanded classes, taught by Ewing and Joseph Hercher, a retired Eastern Airlines captain, offer three hours of instruction a day. Students can receive in-class ground training or, if they have taken the required prerequisites, practice real flying at Albert Whitted Airport. The classroom at Admiral Farragut also features a flight simulator. So far, the program has enrolled about 33 students.

"People always ask me how I could put my life in the hands of a young kid," Ewing said, "but the truth is, the kids' lives are really in my hands. I can take control of the plane at any time."

The training planes have a matching set of controls where the instructor sits.

During Lee's training flight, he practiced "touch-and-go" landings, a complicated maneuver where the pilot takes off and climbs, turns to enter the airport's traffic pattern, circles back to the front of the runway, briefly touches the landing strip and immediately takes off again. As Lee practiced the exercise, he received constant pointers from his instructor.

"Small on that right rudder, just like we practiced," Ewing said after Lee took off and began to bank right. Using Tropicana Field as a ground reference point marking where final approach should begin, Lee successfully completed three touch-and-go maneuvers.

He wasn't done yet. After taking off for a third time, Lee climbed to about 2,500 feet and flew west over St. Petersburg, at one time flying over Admiral Farragut Academy.

Not only are students able to have fun learning to fly, but they're preparing for potential careers. Ewing, who graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1994, said he has seen countless students advance to flying professions.

As Lee continued to fly west and toward the Gulf of Mexico, he practiced steep 45-degree turns, slow flight, climbs and descents. He then brought the plane back to Albert Whitted for a final landing.

"I think this is just the beginning," Lee said after logging an hour of flight time toward the required 40 hours for a pilot's license. "I want to be flying the Boeing 747 one day."

Admiral Farragut takes flight training full throttle 10/07/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 2:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pinellas County receives $30 million for beach renourishment

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– While Pinellas beaches continually rank among the best in America, they need help to stay that way.

    The Army Corps of Engineers has allocated $30 million to help with beach renourishment at several Pinellas locations, including including Sand Key, Treasure Island and Upham Beach. This photo from 2014 shows how waves from high tides caused beach erosion at Sunset Beach near Mansions by the Sea condominium complex SCOTT KEELER   |   Times

  2. Straz Center parking squeeze infuriates patrons, motivates search for solutions


    TAMPA — When the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts opened 30 years ago, it welcomed just 30,000 patrons its first year.

    Fireworks shoot into the sky over the David A. Straz Jr. Center For The Performing Arts. [SCOTT MCINTYRE, Times]
  3. Video shows naked man who stole swan sculpture in Lakeland, deputies say


    The Polk County Sheriff's Office is searching for a naked man who stole a large black and white swan sculpture from a Lakeland storage facility last weekend.

    The Polk County Sheriff's Office says this naked man stole a large black and white swan sculpture, upper right, from a Lakeland storage facility last weekend. Surveillance video showed the man walking into Lakeland Cold Storage. [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Fennelly: Dirk Koetter's apology no way to keep this fidget spinning


    TAMPA — It all began with a fidget spinner.

    This tweet from the Bucs, mocking the Falcons' 28-3 lead they lost in the Super Bowl against the Falcons, prompted a public apology from head coach Dirk Koetter, who called it "unprofessional and not smart."
  5. Jeb money trickles into Putnam's bid for governor


    Money from a Jeb Bush super PAC has made its way into Florida’s 2018 governors race.
    A year ago, Bush’s Right to Rise PAC put $1,171 in money