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Rowan Young: Eyes in the Sky

Hezekiah Smithstein | hsmithstein19@dtechhs.org | March 13, 2019

Freshman Rowan Young teachers members of his flight and aviation club. Photo by

While many teenagers around the world study for their drivers license, freshman Rowan Young is studying to drive a vehicle a little more complicated, involving not two, but three different set of axes: an airplane.

Young’s interest in aviation started in 7th grade, when a middle school friend said “See that plane over there? That’s a 737 [narrow bodied, twin jet commercial airliner],” Young recalls, “And I said, ‘See that plane over there? That plane is cooler than that plane.’” What started as a simple identification exercise grew to become a passion. “I am the type of person that if I start to enjoy something, I go all the way into it,” Young says. He began to study how planes operated, what it took to fly them, and how all of the different systems inside a plane work.

Currently, Young is studying to get a Private Pilot License, which he does using a flight simulator on his computer. The flight simulator mirrors the genuine flying experience, which he uses to both for his enjoyment and to further his flying knowledge in preparation for the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) exam. “If it’s something that you enjoy and something that you love, it’s not really studying for something, it’s doing it for fun,” Young says.

In the simulation, there are a lot of things to keep track of. Before taking off, Young has to power on the plane, turn on the GPU, initialize the aircraft with IRS or ADIRU switches to the nav position, enter in route, altitude, cost index, in addition to identifying the runway and communicating to air traffic control. Then, he is finally ready for takeoff.

Young explains aspects of the simulation to the flight and aviation club, who meet on Thursdays.

Once in the air, “the plane will fly itself,” Young explains, using autopilot. The main job of a pilot during this time is to monitor, “making sure the plane is doing what it is supposed to be doing.” When training, you have to prepare for the plane failing to function, with things such as engine failures, stall procedures, and other emergency procedures that “hopefully you’ll never need to know.”

Arriving, however, is no easy task. Once you near your destination airport you must first fly an arrival, and then an approach. The arrival is to a waypoint close to the airport, where you can then begin the approach to the runway. The approach is a non-precision approach or an ILS category 1, 2, or 3, based on the weather, with a category 3 being an automated landing. Usually, however, the plane is taken off autopilot and landed manually.

The landings, Young says, are the most satisfying part of the simulation. “I don’t know if it’s just touching down, but it’s the completion of being in the air —or your simulator being in the air— for 12 hours, and landing, and [the plane] being on the ground and that kind of completion, it makes you want to do it again,” Rowan says. “And again, and again, and again.”

Although he largely practices with passenger planes, flying a cargo plane is the apple of his eye. “When I’m flying huge planes in the sky someday, I’d be flying for Lufthansa cargo in their triple 7F [large cargo plane],” Young says. Cargo is the desired choice because it’s “like a mini vacation” where he can go to multiple different places and explore the world, instead of going back and forth between only two destinations.

The simulation, although a virtual exercise, has proven to be useful in Young’s current day-to-day life as well. “It’s helped me task manage a lot,” Young explains. “[When landing] you have to make sure your plane isn’t crashing into the ground, talking to Air Traffic Control while going through it. No Air Traffic Control means you have to tell unicom, which is all the planes talking on a channel, telling people what you’re doing, copy back clearance, copy back oceanic clearance, position clearance.” This seems to be just the short list of tasks that must all be performed in a short amount of time, with all of them needing to be perfectly worded. “There’s a lot of phraseology that you need to know,” Young says.

At the start of this year, Young decided to take his vast knowledge and passion for flying and bring it to school, through the creation of the Flight and Aviation Club. In the club, members have begun by learning about “the six most important parts of the plane on the inside, and how they work” according to friend and club member,  Juan “JC” Zaragoza, who says “sooner or later we are going to learn how to fly a plane. He’s got a lot of plans for the club.” JC adds that when it comes to planes, Young is “obsessed. Like very, very obsessed. He always talks about planes. He’s showing us plane jokes, that we never get.” Young’s hobby of identifying planes has continued into high school, as JC says that Young “Is always going to look at a plane, he’s gonna tap you on the shoulder and say ‘Hey, that’s maybe an ‘AE 21-45’— I don’t know plane names,’” JC says, “He knows a lot about planes, so if you are going to ask anything, you should go to him.”

In addition to flying planes, Young has also shown interest in doing Air Traffic Control. When doing air traffic control, there is a lot going on at once as you have to make sure multiple planes are all landing correctly. Before each plane lands, you first have to say their call sign, and then yours. “I have noticed it has made me worry a little bit more,” Young says. Despite this stress and the two-thirds drop out rate of virtual air traffic controllers, let alone ninety percent drop out rate of real-life air traffic control school students, Young professes that this is still an area of interest.

Young’s experience with the simulator has allowed him to quickly progress and accumulate a vast wealth of knowledge. Not too long ago, Young decided to take a mock FAA exam, which he says he was able to pass, albeit “by the skin of [his] teeth”. Despite losing points for minute details, Young seems to have a knack for the complexities of flying and is well on his way to a pilot’s license.

When it comes to following his dreams, there seems to be no limit in what Rowan Young will be able to accomplish — not even the sky.

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