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Christian, 17, takes to the skies

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Christian Warren, 17, has received his private pilot licence (Photograph supplied)

Christian Warren, 17, may just be Bermuda’s youngest pilot.

He has his private licence and is hoping to earn his commercial licence in the next five years.

It is a dream job that, according to his mother, Nicole, he has longed for since he was a toddler.

Christian’s recollection goes back to the age of six when he saw marshals guiding planes at an airport parking ramp and made that his career goal.

“I had never given a thought to being a pilot until the third grade when I did it for a career day,” he said.

Although it piqued his interest, he “let it rest for a few years” and then, during the early days of the pandemic, became hooked on a flight simulator he played with on his iPad.

It led to a conversation with his father, Elmore, who bought him a flight simulator of the standard that pilots train on. After tons of practice, Christian decided he was ready to take the next step.

“I went on a discovery flight in Atlanta and then we started looking into flight schools to go to. My father hooked me up with my instructor in Massachusetts and I've been flying ever since then,” the teenager said.

The first time up in the cockpit was “thrilling” for Christian, despite succumbing to motion sickness.

“It was very exciting and eye opening that I could do it. I saw how obtainable a licence was, the instructors were good. So it was a great experience for me.

“When you first get into a small airplane, especially if it’s a choppy day up in the air, it will bounce you around a lot. But after about three or four flights you kind of get over it and go from there.”

Even as a toddler Christian Warren was interested in flying (Photograph supplied)

It was a choice his parents never worried over.

“My husband, Elmore, and I have always said we would just allow our children to manifest in their own way, because I’ve seen too many people go to school and come back and they're really unhappy with what they’re doing,” Mrs Warren said.

“I took him on a discovery flight in Atlanta. A discovery flight allows anyone to go up with a pilot. We just wanted to make sure that this is really for him because getting up in the sky is different from sitting in a simulator, or just having a deep desire to be a pilot. When he went up I had no fear, because I knew he was ready for this.”

The pilot, who likely assumed that Christian’s parents were allowing him an expensive joyride, was “floored that he knew so much”.

“He was like, ‘This is the kind of student I want to teach.’ [Christian] just knew his stuff. It’s in his blood. It's in his movement, it's in his muscle memory, everything,” Mrs Warren said.

Christian Warren with the professional flight simulator that helped him prepare for flying in real life (Photograph supplied)

It was fortunate they were able to find a family in Massachusetts willing to host Christian during his time there.

“He has matured incredibly. It's been an incredible experience so far,” she said.

Christian’s plan is to gain his commercial licence before he is 25.

“They say if I go at the pace that everyone else goes I can be there in five years. I believe you have to be 21 years old to be in the right seat, and you need to be 23 to be in the left seat.”

Mrs Warren said her son began formally working towards his goal at about 13 when he started taking pilot exams online.

In June 2023 he moved to a small town in Massachusetts with a regional airport that allowed him to receive one-on-one flight lessons.

“He had to push himself to get through his FAA examination – that's the theory and also the practice. In January he turned 17 years old, and 40 days after he took his FAA licence,” Mrs Warren said.

“He passed. So he is probably the youngest person in Bermuda with a pilot's licence. And also in the US, he was probably the second or third Black 17-year-old to receive this. And in the state of Massachusetts, he's the youngest. We were researching, my husband and I, and we can't see that there’s any other younger pilots at 17 years old.”

His long-term plan set, Christian is back in Bermuda for the summer working at Greg Wilson’s Food Forest, an organic farm in Sandys.

He is simultaneously studying so he is able to operate a plane relying solely on instruments “when outside visual reference is not safe”. As well, Christian has to build on his flight time to reach the 1,500 hours necessary for a commercial licence.

Pilot Christian Warren (Photograph supplied)

“He has just under 100 flying hours right now,” his mother said. “He has a number of solos underneath his belt. He was 16 and he was doing solo flights in the US. By the end of next year or the middle of next year, he's going to have his commercial pilot's licence – at 18.”

Although having a licence will give him a ticket to the world, Christian is not so interested in sightseeing. His hope is that he is hired by Delta Air Lines or American Airlines as they both have “a really good programme”.

“Delta is probably my first choice. But I’ve never been a ‘travel person’. I just like getting there; just constantly flying. When I was flying cross-country it was just nice going to new places, flying there yourself. It's really satisfying. You feel accomplished when you fly, land and go back,” he said.

Being nervous, even panicking – is all part of developing your skills, the teenager added.

“Sometimes you make mistakes. You scare yourself. But it's all about making decisions and being confident in your decision. I was never really nervous to fly, I was just very aware of what I was doing.”

Turbulence can be scary for passengers but it’s not usually a big deal for the people in control of the plane, he insisted.

“With the weather, it’s really knowing your limit and what you can do. There's legal parameters around it: one being ‘current’ and another being ‘proficient’. Proficiency is knowing that you can fly to the best of your capabilities. And being current is just a legal thing where you have to do a certain amount of take-offs and landings in the last 90 days,” Christian said.

“But they say that that won’t necessarily help you if you're not confident in what you're doing. So that's what just really drives you forward, being the better pilot in terms of confidence.”

Meanwhile, Mrs Warren is looking forward to August when her son heads back to Massachusetts and he will take her up on a plane. Work has prevented her from joining him so far.

“He said, ‘Mom, you’ll be the first one that goes up on a flight with me.’ I'm not nervous or anything. I trust he knows what he's got to do.”

Christian Warren chats with his mother, Nicole, as he prepares to fly (Photograph supplied)

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Published June 21, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated June 22, 2024 at 8:17 am)

Christian, 17, takes to the skies

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