FIRST IN FLIGHT | Student pilots: Flying is ‘coolest thing ever’

Published 3:00 am Saturday, August 20, 2016


Dalton Earles and Nikki Hughes flew down to Gulf Shores for lunch.

Seafood! Why else would you fly to Gulf Shores for lunch?

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Dalton was at the controls of the Diamond D-A40 on the flight from Troy to the coast and Nikki took the controls on the way home.

But flying the private plane was nothing new for the high school seniors. They have solo flights to their credit and cross-country flights.

By the end of the month they both should be certified private airplane pilots. Dalton is scheduled to have his final FAA cross-country check on Thursday and Nikki’s will be the following Saturday.


Then, the sky is the limit for Pike County School’s First in Flight and Leadership Academy students.

The academy is the runway to high-fly careers for Dalton, who is a senior at Pike County High School, and Nikki, a senior at Goshen High School.

For them, flying is “the coolest thing ever” and they always want their blue highways to be blue skyways.

“The first time I flew, I was five years old,” Dalton said. “I flew on a commercial plane with my family to Texas. That was the beginning for me.”

Several years ago, Dalton had a chance to ride in a Cessna and got to put his hands on the controls. He was hooked.

“Later, I got to see the Blue Angels and, after that, I was around airplanes every chance I got,” he said. “I knew I wanted to fly.”

Dalton applied to the Pike County School’s aviation academy and was accepted. But, the first two years were spent in grounds school and it was “tough.” But he never lost sight of his dream to pilot planes.


For Nikki, her inspiration to fly came at a math and science camp. She stood near the runway on “space day” and watched as the pilot taxied the small plane, pulled onto the runway and accelerated to takeoff. When the plane soared so did Nikki’s spirits.

“I knew right then what I wanted to do,” she said. “I was bored with high school. I was not challenged. I wanted to fly.”

Nikki applied for acceptance into the First in Flight and Leadership Academy. She wanted to fulfill her dream of flying and also that of her dad’s.
“My dad wanted to fly but he didn’t have the money that it takes,” she said. “The academy was my chance to do what we both wanted to do.”

Both young pilots said the academy was very demanding and more was asked than they sometimes want to give but their eyes were always on the sky.

Both remember the day that their flight trainer said the words they had long wanted to hear, “you’re ready to solo.”

“Your first solo flights are traffic patterns, “ Dalton said. “It’s take-offs and landings. You fly in a triangle. You take off and land. Take off and land.”

When the day came for the Dalton and Nikki to make their first “real” solo flights. They were more than ready, “nervous but ready,” they said.

Dalton’s first solo flight was to Selma and Nikki flew solo to Auburn. Both have now logged scores of solo flights and cross country flights.

“I’m real comfortable in the plane by myself,” Nikki said. “It’s like I belong.”

Dalton said, too, that he’s as comfortable behind the “wheel” of a Diamond as he is behind the wheel of a car.

Nikki has accepted the good-natured teasing that she gets about having to have a booster seat to pilot the plane.

“I have to have the booster seat to be able to see out,” she said, laughing. “I have to take a lot of kidding about that.”

The young pilots said flying an airplane is serous business and it’s something they take very seriously. Both have had their “scary” moments in the air. For Nikki, it was a sudden wind change and then a situation where she was having to dodge clouds that were popping up. She handled both situations by the book and learned from the “hands-on”experience.

For Dalton, it was “porpoise” landing.

“When you porpoise you bounce and the nose of the plane goes down and, if you don’t recover, it can be bad,” Dalton said. “When it happened, I thought I was going to crash a half-million dollar airplane … and with my parents watching. I recovered but I was real nervous.”

Dalton and Nikki are conscientious pilots. They know their limits and they don’t push them.

Both said the First in Flight and Leadership Academy has laid the foundation for their futures. Dalton’s future plan is an either/or plan.

He would like to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. If that doesn’t work out, he will enlist in the Air Force and hopefully get one of his preferred jobs.

Nikki’s plan is to attend Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and pursue a career in the fields of math or aerospace engineering.

They expressed appreciation to the Pike County School System for providing them with the opportunities “for” their lifetimes.

When Dalton Earles and Nikki Hughes were 15 years old, they were walking around on the Troy University campus as students. Today, they are high school seniors who pilot planes. For them, the sky is the limit.