April 1, 2008
By Julie Summers Walker
He’s got a thousand-watt smile and a personality that fills a room. For frequent visitors to events such as Sun ’n Fun, AirVenture, and AOPA’s Fly-In and Open House, he’s a regular fixture. And for young people interested in aviation, he’s an inspiration.
Jamail Larkins’ rise to fame and prominence in the aviation industry has as much to do with that smile and personality as it does with his accomplishments and talent. He started flying at age 12 and was ready to solo by 13. Since the United States does not allow students to solo powered aircraft before the age of 16, Larkins went on a letter-writing campaign, first to attempt to get the FAA to waive the age requirement and second to aviation companies that would sponsor him to solo in Canada, where the age is 14. The FAA didn’t budge, but Avemco, Cirrus Design, and Shell Aviation helped Larkins get to Canada and solo. Later, when Larkins was 16, Cirrus flew an SR20 to Atlanta for his U.S. solo. All along with this activity came a byproduct of Larkins’ enthusiasm and efforts—a media frenzy. The media jumped on Larkins’ story—especially enjoying the young man’s initiative (he started a Web site selling aviation-related products at 15 to fund his flight lessons)—and created the personality that is now Jamail Larkins.
The result is that this 23-year-old pilot and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University heads the Dream Launch tour, in which he travels around the country presenting 30-minute inspirational speeches to middle- and high-school students, is the FAA’s first ambassador for aviation and space education, and has performed aerobatics live for The David Letterman Show. He has more than 760 hours in 36 different aircraft.
Of his letter-writing campaign that got him so far, Larkins says, “I’ve re-read my letters and I think, Did I really write this? I was so optimistic!”
However, a present-day conversation shows Larkins as optimistic as ever—“There are so many great opportunities today! I want to take every one I can. I had a chance to accompany [AOPA President] Phil [Boyer] and was amazed at his grueling schedule and so impressed. I wouldn’t mind Phil’s job—but I think it’s a few more years before I’m ready.” There’s that thousand-watt grin again.
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.
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