Youngest solo pilot, 16 wins award, gets advice

August 10, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Jimmy Mathis, the youngest pilot to fly solo across the country, spent several days last month gazing at mountain peaks, meandering rivers and billowy plains. Yesterday the landscape looked a bit different -- dotted instead with bureaucrats, lobbyists and assorted Beltway creatures.

In an awards ceremony at the Federal Aviation Administration, the 16-year-old from Glen Arm was honored for completing a historic coast-to-coast flight on his own, the youngest person believed to have accomplished such a trip.

"It's a real pleasure to see young people enter flying in a safe manner and find records to break," said FAA Administrator David Hinson. "I didn't learn to fly until I was 20, so this young man beat me."

But the ceremony didn't stop with a plaque and a handshake. Commercial airline executives made pitches for their industry. Aircraft promoters shopped their wares around the room. And everyone offered the teen-ager some advice.

"Energize your schoolmates and friends to get in this business," Mr. Hinson urged. "You're really the type of person who should go to one of these aviation schools and further your career," said Ed Stimpson, head of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

Jimmy nodded and smiled in response. The teen-ager, who will be a high school junior this fall, took all the talk about his future in stride.

When an aviation executive presented him with a check and told him it would pay the interest on his college loan, the 16-year-old had to remind the crowd that he was still in high school.

When Jim Landry, president of Air Transport Association of America, told Jimmy he hoped to hire him some day, the teen-ager just laughed. "I was kind of surprised about that," he said later.

But the surprise seemed to be a pleasant one for the Mathis family.

"This was the first time he's met with the airline people, and I did get that feeling he was being recruited," Mary Lou Mathis, his mother, said after the ceremony. "This is very encouraging."

For now, Jimmy is working in a video store in Baltimore, saving money and planning for the day he gets his driver's license. As for the future, Jimmy is certain about one thing.

"I really want a plane," he said. "That would be great."

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