Spencer Rice took his private pilot checkride at age 17. He credits a wonderfully supportive aviation community for a large part of his success.—Ed.
About six years ago, I saw a very small airport right next to my family’s beach house. Watching the airplanes fly the pattern right over our house fascinated me.One day I just had to meet a pilot. I was 11 at the time so I asked if one of my parents would take me to the airport, and they agreed. I met the pilot, and I don’t remember the exact words he and I exchanged, but I do remember him telling me about EAA.When I got home I looked for more info on EAA and learned about the Young Eagles program. I nagged my parents consistently till they agreed to let me contact the local coordinator.I was set up with a flight in a small experimental called a Zenith Zodiac 601. I remember the takeoff very well, and I was hooked! The Young Eagles pilot told me after the flight that I could go with him again anytime, and of course I took up that offer! I kept flying with him and still do; we have become great friends.I started my first flight lessons at 13. Flying in a J-5 Cub. I was able to afford 10 hours of flying before I ran out of money. The one thing I always told my parents was that if I was going to pursue my dream in aviation that it would be by my own funding. They would front money to me, but I would always pay it back. I mowed lawns to pay for my training, but that money did not come in fast enough to continue. I stopped lessons unfortunately.I continued flying with my Young Eagle pilot and one day we were talking about Experimental aircraft. I said that I would like to build my own plane in the future. My Young Eagle pilot responded with “what if I told you, you could now?” This was the biggest opportunity of my life; he offered to help me through the process, teach, and mentor me. He understood my money issue and brought up the idea of scratch building so I could pay as I go.Not more than three months later I bought my own pair of plans for a Zenith Zodiac 601—the same plane I took my first flight in. Thus began the building of my very own airplane.Fast forward another two years and we flew to a small airport for breakfast. I there met the airport manager who was a very nice lady who was actually asking about this same story. I told her that I was looking for a flight school so she introduced me to the owner of a small one-plane-two instructor business on the airport.I hit it off with this instructor and began my lessons there four months later. I was now working two part-time jobs plus my lawn business and of course going to school.I flew once again as I could afford it, but my instructors were very helpful in this situation, allowing me to pay on a monthly basis. I soloed on my 16th birthday and as you now know got my license on my 17th.Now this is the short version of the story really. I met many people along the way and networked with many individuals personally. I have pilots from around the country and even the world who I have never met but sacrificed their time to help me. Greg Brown, the author of the Flying Carpet, is one of those individuals. The connections I have made amaze me in that the aviation community truly cares and wants to see your success. I am happy to be a part of it.