William Hamilton stands in front of the Piper Warrior on which he earned his wings DON RICKERS

Young pilot hopes to pursue career flying heavy metal

Few 16-year-old high-schoolers get to regularly gaze down upon Niagara from 3000 feet, but it’s all part of William Hamilton’s flight plan.

A Grade 11 student at E. L. Crossley Secondary School, in Fonthill, Hamilton has been dreaming of a career in aviation since he was a boy.

What’s the attraction?

“I love the freedom…you can go wherever you want. And you don’t have to constantly worry about people who are going to cut you off, like you do on the roadways,” he said.

Born in England, Hamilton’s first passion as a child was trains. But when the family moved back to Canada, the plane ride from London to Toronto had a big impact on him. By the time he was 10, he had several trans-Atlantic flights under his belt. He was hooked on flying, and made the decision to make it his career.

The wheels were finally set in motion by a minor sports injury.

“I broke my finger playing soccer in September 2017. My dad felt sorry that I was sidelined, so he said we should both take up flying. Dad flew until last summer, and then he stopped because he just didn’t have enough free time. I kept going,” said Hamilton.

At age 14, he was by far the youngest in the ground school class of 30 students. Two nights a week, he was at the Niagara District Airport learning aerodynamics, navigation, air law, meteorology, and aircraft systems. Forty hours of classroom theory culminated in a three-hour written examination, which Hamilton recently passed. He has 55 hours logged in the air thus far, of which seven were solo flights.

David Papaiz, Hamilton’s primary flight instructor at the St. Catharines Flying Club, said that the Pelham youngster is probably the top learner he has worked with out of almost 50 students.

“William works very hard on his aviation theory, and is highly motivated,” said Papaiz “He’s performing aerial maneuvers at the commercial pilot level, but unfortunately won’t be able to take the commercial test until he turns 18.”

Papaiz has logged about 800 hours and has ambitions of working for an airline as well. Flight instruction, and military service, are two traditional routes to commercial flying jobs.

To obtain a Recreational Pilot Permit (RPP), one must be at least 16 years old, and have logged at least 25 hours in the air (of which at least five must be solo hours). This certification allows the pilot to fly a single-engine aircraft exclusively under visual flight rules (VFR) during daylight hours, with not more than one passenger on board, and all flights must be conducted within Canadian airspace. A Private Pilot License (PPL) requires that the candidate be a minimum of 17 years old, with a minimum flight time of 45 hours (12 of which must be solo, including five hours of cross-country flights). Medical examinations are required for both licenses.

As hobbies go, flying is an expensive one. The average cost to obtain a Recreational Pilot Permit (RPP) is about $7,000. Bank on an additional $15,000 for a Private Pilot’s License (PPL). A Commercial Pilot’s License (CPL) will cost upwards of $25,000 more, and candidates need to have already logged at least 200 hours of flight time.

To be considered by a commercial airline, a pilot would need to present over a 1,000 logged hours at the controls, and a number of special ratings. Cumulative costs approaching $100,000 would not be unusual.

Working part-time defrays some expenses.

“I was paper delivery boy for the Voice up until a few years ago,” said Hamilton. “I work at Lookout Point Golf Club now in the summers.”

His parents, Ian and Laure Hamilton, know that aviation jobs are on the upswing, and the high cost of certification should pay off down the road for their son in a lucrative career with an airline.

A December 2019 article published by Global News indicated that Canada will need 7,300 new commercial pilots by 2025 as demand for air travel increases, and senior pilots retire. Worldwide, estimates are that the global demand for new pilots will hit 255,000 by 2027, with the majority yet to start the long process of training and logging flying hours.

Upon graduation from high school, Hamilton has pretty much decided that he wants to attend Western University, in London, which offers a four-year commercial aviation management program (the only one of its kind in Canada) as an offshoot of its standard business degree. His mathematics and physics marks are solid, so admission shouldn’t be an issue.

Flight training sometimes involves being purposely placed in situations which would make many shriek in panic. Spin avoidance would be one, when the plane stalls, the nose falls, and the plane starts to drop. Recovering from these “power-on” and “power-off stalls” is drilled into flying students until recovering from them is automatic. There is no Plan B. With few exceptions—such as high performance aerobatic aircraft—once a plane enters a spin, it doesn’t come out.

“One of the most tense procedures is called the ‘forced approach,’” said Hamilton. “We fly to a designated area where the government allows us to practice maneuvers at low altitudes. At about 3,000 feet your flight instructor will pull back on the throttle and tell you that you just lost your engine, and then you have to safely maneuver the plane with no power towards a safe landing approach on a field or roadway.”

Another training maneuver that takes plenty of practice to get right is the “soft field” landing, as on sandy beaches or grassy meadows. The goal is to keep weight off the landing gear as much as possible until the plane comes to a halt, avoiding digging-in and nosing-over into the ground surface. The landing approach is made as slowly as is safe, with the pilot holding the nose up as lift gradually dissipates under the wings.

Hamilton recently completed his first solo cross-country flight, from St. Catharines to St. Thomas, with a touch-and-go in Hamilton. He flies a low-wing Piper Warrior, which seats four, and has a 160-horsepower, four-cylinder engine.

“I usually cruise at 100 knots (185 km/hr) with a ceiling of about 3,000 feet, although I was at 6,500 feet during my solo trip to St. Thomas.”

Within the next few months, Hamilton expects to have achieved all the necessary requirements for his PPL…with one exception. He won’t yet be 17 years old. So he’ll just have to wait until his next birthday before the formal documentation goes through.