The Remarkable Story Of Jamail Larkins
By ANN Correspondent Aleta Vinas
(This is the third and final installment of Aleta Vinas'
story on one of the rising stars in aviation: Jamail Larkins. Links
to the previous two stories are below --
After being turned down by the FAA on his request for permission
to solo before his 16th birthday, Jamail Larkins' wild ride was
just starting. He went to Canada for his first solo flight. There,
a child can solo at the age of fourteen. Upon returning to the
States, He was offered an internship at Cessna by the Cessna
Vice-Chairman. He gave a testimonial used in the King video
Once he returned home, as his lessons continued, his parents
agreed to cover two hours a month. But that was a totally
inadequate flying fix for Jamail. With his participation in the
Young Eagles and by hanging out at the airport, he was up to about
fifteen hours a month. Still not good enough. So in the
American spirit of entrepreneurship, at the age of fifteen, Jamail
began Larkins Enterprises, Inc. to make flying money. He used a
website he'd initially started after his Canada trip in order to
thank his sponsors and tell of his Canada adventure. His first
year, before he even began selling products he had over 150,000
He started selling Rod Machado's books and tapes, soon after he
added King products. The revenue now being generated through
Larkins Enterprises, Inc. allowed for more flying time but still
not enough to suit Jamail. After meeting Rick Garcia of Gulf Coast
Avionics, Garcia extended Jamail the opportunity to sell Gulf Coast
Avionics products on his web site. Finally the income was
sufficient and Jamail was adding another two to five hours a month
to his logbook.
He was also flying over twenty to thirty additional hours as a
passenger, gaining experience, through the generosity of the
airport pilots. With Jamail's persistence website sdales gradually
evolved into some sponsorships. He hooked up with Shell (one of the
sponsors of his Canada trip) and other companies promoting aviation
to mainstream America. Since the speech at the Cessna booth, Jamail
also started working more with the EAA when they needed a Young
Eagles program speaker. In 2000 he became the official spokesperson
for EAA Vision of Eagles Program, just prior to his US solo.
Jamail had his solo planned to perfection; it would, of course,
take place on his sixteenth birthday, January 30, 2000. It would be
in the newly certified Cirrus SR20. Jamail had met some of the
Cirrus folks prior and he'd sent them a proposal for his flight,
with the SR20 playing a starring role, which they accepted. On
January 30th the SR20 waited and waited at the Augusta airport for
Jamail since Mother Nature had other plans.
"I had seen snow in Augusta maybe twice since I was born. (That
day) We had snow, we had ice, I mean it was just unbelievable. How
often does it snow in Augusta? And it happens to snow on this day,"
He soloed on January 31st, complete with the American tradition
of shirt-tail cutting, much less traumatic than a bucket of water
(unless they find something on your shirt tail…).
Jamail took the delay in stride, uncharacteristic of someone so
young. "No matter how well you plan, you're not in control of
everything. Worry about things you have control over and not the
things that you can't. Life is a whole lot more productive that
way." He flew straight into aerobatics from here, flying off and on
as much as he could over the next two years under the watchful eye
of Ellen Dean. She knew Jamail's limits even if he
From Dean, Jamail was reminded of the timeless adage "know your
limits and don't exceed them", especially when you're inside an
airplane. "That was a very big lesson because I was a young
teenager, having a blast. I'm rolling, hanging from the straps
pulling eight positive G's. I just want to keep going and she says
"no" you need to build up your G tolerance and build your body
Jamail could not really pinpoint the most difficult maneuver
he's had to learn. "Every single maneuver there's something that
makes it difficult to do. They take a certain amount of effort to
do correctly, the way that ICAS, International Council of Airshows
expects you to be able to do, for safety reasons and reasons along
those lines. They're all unique and hard maneuvers to
His favorite maneuver is the tail slide. "It's very hard to keep
a tail slide to keep coming back without falling off. You get to
fly backwards; you get to do something you're not meant to do!" He
achieved his level 4 (800 foot floor) Aerobatic Competency in
August 2002 and became one of the youngest aerobatic pilots in the
US. He now has a level 3 (500 foot floor) done in his Christian
Jamail purchased his Eagle from Red Eagle Airshow Team pilot
Buck Roetman at his hometown airport just before his 18th birthday.
Jamail attributes everything he knows about airshows to Roetman and
Dan McClung another member of the Red Eagle Aerobatic Team. While
most youngsters Jamail's age were asking mom and dad for their
first car, through Larkins Enterprises, the sponsorships and the
product revenue he was able to purchase his own airplane. During
this time Jamail was also traveling to 15 – 20 events a year
as a spokesperson for aviation with the EAA and Young Eagles.
Jamail earned his Private Certificate on February 23rd 2001 and now
the sky was the limit. It did however take two tries to earn his
His first attempt was any applicant's nightmare but Jamail bears
no negativity on the experience. His Designated Examiner needed his
FAA recertification, so there was an FAA Rep shadowing the
proceedings. The oral was four and a half hours long. Prior to the
flight, a plane had crashed nearby and the FAA Rep was needed on
the scene. Jamail preflighted and waited in the plane, running
through his checklist all the while. He set his directional gyro
with the gyros not running and because he'd gone through the motion
already, once the plane was started and the check ride continued he
skipped that vital step as he started on the cross country portion
of the exam in hazy weather. As a result his DG was over 30 degrees
off from the compass and because of the poor visibility Jamail
thought he was over his check points.
His DE let him know he had failed the cross country portion and
he could choose to continue with the flight or head back to the
airport. Giving up is not a phrase in Jamail's vocabulary. He
elected to continue the ride and performed the remainder just fine.
His recheck was just the cross country and deviation portion which
went without incident.
Upon landing and hearing
the news that he had passed, instead of going out with his friends
to celebrate, this devoted pilot took up six Young Eagles! Over the
years Jamail has flown many Young Eagles and though he's not sure,
he believes he's flown as many girls as guys. The one female that
hasn't flown with him is his mother. Jamail's father has flown with
him many times since Jamail received his certificate but his
mother, not being fond of the small cockpit of the Eagle has not
flown with her son. She's waiting for him to own something a bit
roomier such as a Citation. Jamail compares earning his driver's
license to earning his pilot license "In reality the door to real
freedom is only cracked open with a driver's license; a pilot's
license tears the hinges off."
You may wonder what happened to school while he was learning to
fly. Nothing, Jamail was an honor student at his high school in
Augusta (GA). He received a number of academic awards. He was
student body president in his senior year. He was a member of the
track team, student council, the Aerospace club and the Future
Business Leader's of America.
Oh, and he managed to squeeze in earning a black belt in
Taekwondo. He is also active in the First Shiloh Baptist Church in
his parent's neighborhood whenever his schedule allows.
In September 2002 he began his first semester at Embry-Riddle
Aeronautical University's Daytona Beach campus in order to pursue a
BS in Aviation Management. He scheduled his classes for Tuesdays
and Thursdays to allow for his speaking engagements and flying.
"I'd be here Tuesday and Thursday and then every other day it's
fair game to be in a different city." Jamail gets no special
treatment from his instructors and only two even knew about his
DreamLaunch Tour. Throughout the whole tour he only missed two
classes. "I made it to more classes than the majority of my friends
who are down here all the time." This is Daytona Beach, after all
and local distractions prevail. Only missing two classes and having
a 3.8 grade point average does not mean Jamail sits in his
apartment and studies all the time. While, at the moment, there is
no special lady in his life due to his travel schedule, he does go
out with friends, male and female, in Augusta and Daytona.
One key to catching this gentleman's attention is to have a
passion of your own so you can understand why he chose to attend
Lakeland Sun n Fun rather than his senior prom (ok, he did make his
junior prom the prior year). It doesn't matter if the passion is
aviation or not. People with their own passion understand where
Jamail is coming from. In fact, a non-aviation oriented female
allows Jamail to "start off with a clean slate" since they would
know little to nothing about his adventures.
Jamail recently closed out DreamLaunch, an almost eighteen city
tour with Jamail flying a Cirrus SR20 and speaking to over 18,000
of America's young people at more than 70 public and private
schools. The topic: the opportunities available in aviation.
Millions more learned of Jamail's ambassadorial efforts in the
media. He even got a spot on Letterman.
Several lucky students in each of the cities received a Young
Eagles flight with Jamail. The winners were chosen based on their
winning essays about aviation into the next century of flight. The
tour was made while Jamail was attending ERAU full time, running
his business and preparing for the airshow season.
One of his most memorable rides was in Denver, one of the
winners was very nervous, "he's not sure if he really wants to get
inside the airplane. I convinced him to get inside the airplane. He
comes down with this HUGE smile on his face and he's telling his
parents I'm gonna become a pilot, it was so much fun. That's what
it's all about!" It was a sentiment echoed by many other Young
"You never know if they are or if they're not going to go the
extra mile to become a pilot but at least they've had a positive
experience with aviation. So in the future when there are problems
about airports being closed to build housing developments, they're
going to have a positive experience and they're not going to be one
of those people that think ‘flying is dangerous and that
airport shouldn't be there, it's unsafe' and things along those
At an interview during the Orlando stop Jamail was asked what
motivates him to do this. "I didn't know how to answer this
question right off the top of my head. Why would I prefer to be on
the road 80 percent of the time instead of flying my Christen Eagle
II, or hanging out with my friends? Why would I prefer to set my
alarm clock for 4 or 5 a.m. the majority of the week? This question
puzzled me for a couple of days. Granted, there is great
satisfaction I receive from hopefully inspiring others to think
about aviation. I also get to fly a very nice, state-of-the-art
aircraft, the Cirrus SR20, talk with others about something I truly
care about, and have the opportunity to see different parts of the
country (even if it is only for a few hours). But none of those
examples answered the question."
As I was brushing my teeth one morning, the light bulb magically
turned on," he continued. "During some point in our lives, we all
develop a passion for something. It may be business, music, art,
dance, or reading. If channeled correctly, that passion can
motivate us to accomplish the impossible. Whether that
impossibility is creating a vehicle that flies through the air and
defies gravity; or sending a man to the moon; or landing an
airplane on a moving ship; or allowing a college sophomore to set
his alarm clock for 0400, a passion for something can motivate us
to do things we never dreamed of. Luckily, for me, my passion was
discovered while I was fairly young and it involved flying. I've
collected some fantastic memories in a very short time, and I
always enjoyed sharing my flying experiences with others, whether
inside of an airplane during a Young Eagles flight, during an
airshow performance, or on the ground during a presentation talking
to my peers about careers in aviation. Sharing the gift of flight
with others has driven me to accomplish things I never dreamed
His biggest disappointment was having to return the SR20 at the
end of the tour. Jamail will have another opportunity to spread the
aviation gospel. A fall DreamLaunch Tour is in the works. Already
on board with sponsorships so far are Embry-Riddle Aeronautical
University, Careers in Aviation, AeroShell, Cox Communications, Air
Shares Elite, Lift Flight Training and Michelin.
As if his schedule wasn't full enough, Jamail and Careers in
Aviation crossed paths in 2000, at an airshow in Augusta (GA).
Careers in Aviation is a volunteer, non-profit organization
designed to help America's young people achieve their dreams and
invest in their future in aviation. Phil Bellury of Careers
in Aviation asked Jamail to assist on their aviation career video.
Jamail's role was co-host of the video. The video, which was made
using sponsorship funds was to explore all areas of aviation as a
career and was to be shown at middle and high schools.
Unfortunately, after much work was done, the quality of the product
was not where Careers in Aviation expected and the video was put on
Some may mumble at Jamail's somewhat "backward" approach to
airshow flying. Many of the airshow performers started out in
aerobatic competition and then made their way into airshows.
Jamail's funds were enough for one venue, he chose airshows because
he wants to share flying with people.
"Competition really didn't give me that outlet," he said.
Airshows are where he can give back and share with the general
public through Young Eagles and as a performer. "Competition is
something that I'm looking forward to once I get a little bit more
time. I'm still going to do the airshow stuff."
Wayne Handley is one of
the aerobatic pilots Jamail admires most. Handley flew the Oracle
Turbo Raven and is one of the premier aerobatic coaches on the west
coast, having worked with Sean D. Tucker for one. Jamail originally
wanted to study under Handley; however living in Daytona Beach,
Florida to attend Embry-Riddle presented a difficult commute.
Handley did help Jamail overcome some low spots in his career. Says
Handley "He is definitely goal oriented and appears to be on track,
despite some set backs and unjust criticism."
In one instance, CNN presented an interview with Jamail about
six months after 9-11 and managed to twist some events and present
Jamail as reckless. The CNN piece played during Oshkosh and several
friends in the airshow community saw the piece minus sound at a
local "establishment" and were a bit taken aback when they saw
clips of F-16s and the police. Jamail received some calls of
concern and some calls giving him grief from the airshow
Handley was "very disappointed to learn how much discrimination
still exists in America and especially aviation. Jamail has taken
his lumps and even though it hurt, he has never wavered. All in all
I'm very impressed with Jamail and look forward to working with
Jamail takes full responsibility for the misunderstanding. With
advice from Handley and other aerobatic pilots he greatly admires
(including the likes of Patty Wagstaff and Steve and Suzanne Oliver
of the Pepsi Team) he has turned taken this event as well as some
other negative incidents and made them learning experiences. Jamail
tries not to let 'stuff' get to him. When you ask Wagstaff about
Jamail, she says, "He has a true gift for presentation and
speaking. This talent can be used to great effect for whatever he
chooses to use it for and we're very happy he has chosen aviation.
Jamail's focus, dedication, sense of mission and innate talents
make a very powerful combination that will benefit aviation for
years to come."
Jamail will attend AirVenture and helping out with the Young
Eagles, he'll also be spending time at the AeroShell booth, so stop
by and say hello to this young, charming, rising star. Jamail says,
through his work with Young Eagles and Careers in Aviation, he's
meeting his goals: To "educate" the non-flying public about
aviation opportunities and dispel some of the myths about aviation
safety. To inspire a "few" people to enter the world of aviation.
To assist those who don't have the same kind of opportunities he
had and to keep finances from being a roadblock to someone's hopes
of entering aviation.
Jamail sees a future with more to come than flying airshows. "I
want flying to continue to be an integral part of my career." He
sees a business component, flying component and a positive impact
component. "I definitely want to leave a positive mark in this
industry." He already has.