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Tue, Jul 27, 2004

Defying Gravity: Part Two

The Remarkable Story Of Jamail Larkins

By ANN Correspondent Aleta Vinas

(This is the second in a three-part series on Jamail Larkins, perhaps one of the most noticable rising stars in aviation today. Reporter Aleta Vinas talked with Jamail, his friends and those who look up to him in putting together this well-researched story. Sit back, grab a cup of coffee and read on as Aleta picks up the story when Jamail, at 13, hopes to get the FAA to allow him to solo before his 16th birthday -- ed.)

Right after his first Young Eagle's flight, Jamail Larkins became a volunteer for the organization. He did whatever he could, helping with the Young Eagles flights, preflight briefings, paperwork, moving planes, washing airplanes and traditional airport-kid stuff for anyone else on the airport. Anything to get a few hours in the cockpit.

Jamail's parents saw their son's seriousness about flying and even though soloing was four years down the road he began flight lessons while continuing as a Young Eagle volunteer. In 1997 with about twenty flight hours, along with letters from his instructors and area Designated Examiners, Jamail was ready to take on the FAA and petition them to allow him to solo before he turned sixteen. Jamail specifically flew with several instructors and Designated Examiners to have many different evaluations of his proficiency to submit to the FAA.

His reasoning for the petition was sound, he wanted to fly more and if he were able to solo it would be less expensive and he would have greater flexibility in having to only schedule an airplane. Not to mention, he was a capable pilot. The FAA, however, didn't agree. Jamail was turned down flat.

While continuing the fight, he attended Lakeland Sun 'N Fun as a Young Eagles volunteer as well as Oshkosh EAA AirVenture later that year. At Oshkosh he was approached by Lloyd Richards who remembered Jamail from Sun 'N Fun. Richards was the Young Eagles Field Rep in Timmins, Ontario.

During their discussion, talk began to center on Jamail's petition. Anyone nearby the two probably saw the light bulb go off over Jamail's head when Richards announced that you only had to be fourteen to solo in Canada. Richards extended an invitation for the then thirteen year old, to stay with him and solo in Canada when he turned fourteen. One of Jamail's first thoughts was that if he soloed in Canada at fourteen that would be sufficient proof to allow the FAA to approve his petition to solo in the US before age sixteen.

Ah, the innocence of youth. Still, you have to admire his persistence. Ultimately to no avail as the FAA did not see it his way. Next in his mind was how to afford the trip. This independent young man did not do what most kids his age would have done and run home and ask his parents for money. Once again, unknown to his parents Jamail began his plan of attack. Richards helped Jamail with the necessary paperwork and Transport Canada bent over backwards to help and make sure all the documentation was correctly prepared.

Jamail began a letter writing campaign, explaining his story, to over one hundred aviation oriented companies, requesting their sponsorship of his trip. Replies varied, American Airlines sponsored his flight, and some companies sent $50 some $100 or more. Through the generosity of the sponsors all his flight time and incidentals over the two weeks were covered. He soloed July 14, 1998 and received the Canadian tradition of having a bucket of water dumped on him.

Jamail came back to the states and the following week left for his second Tour of Duty at Oshkosh. "That's where my life really changed."

During a break from his Young Eagles duties, Jamail wandered over to the Cessna booth and began chatting with one of the employees there. When she heard about Jamail's Canada adventure she introduced him to Jane McIntire, then Vice-President of Corporate Communications at Cessna. The following day, McIntire had Jamail on stage at a press conference speaking about his Young Eagles experiences and his Canada trip.

Fear held no sway on this fourteen year old as he spoke to the huge group of people, many who held high positions in aviation, including John and Martha King of King Video, members from every aviation trade publication, EAA President Tom Poberezny as well as the Cessna Chairman and Vice-Chairman. At the time, the influential power in the audience was unknown to Jamail; his focus was "having an opportunity to talk about the Young Eagles program." After his Canada experience, he realized how fortunate he'd been with the sponsorships and the help he'd received. "I really need to help out as much as I can to try to get more people to have the experiences I've had."

(Wednesday, we wrap up this look at Jamail Larkins' incredible aviation journey. Please join us! -- ed.)

FMI: www.jamaillarkins.com, www.youngeagles.org, www.careersinaviation.org

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