October 1, 2008
By Ian J. Twombly
Some say there aren’t enough young pilots in aviation. And, some believe, those who do choose to become pilots aren’t driven and don’t study hard enough. Simon Norwalk didn’t get the memo.
Norwalk is like any 18-year-old, or rather any 18-year-old with 500 hours who’s already obtained both a single- and mulitengine commercial pilot certificate with an instrument rating, a flight instructor and instrument flight instructor certificate, and has aspirations of flying Gulfstream G550s internationally. In a business that places barriers to young entrants, Norwalk has excelled in leaping the hurdles.
In fact, the only thing that has held Norwalk back up to this point is the weather. Although he was ready for his first solo, private checkride, and commercial checkride on his sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth birthdays, respectively, weather meant he didn’t finish them until a few days later. As if the single-engine commercial soon after his eighteenth birthday wasn’t enough, Norwalk went on to finish his multiengine commercial, CFI, and CFI-Instrument soon after.
Like most young successful pilots, Norwalk didn’t go this route alone. His father, former B-52 pilot Jay Norwalk, bought a 1967 Cessna 172 when Simon was 14 and informally taught him how to fly. According to the elder Norwalk, Simon had amassed more than 100 hours and 500 landings by the time he was able to solo. The pair took the ultimate trip when Simon was 14, flying from their home in Maine to Oregon and back. What would be great experience for any pilot turned into a fantastic learning experience for the aspiring professional pilot.
But don’t discount Norwalk as simply lucky enough to make it this far. On one of his solo practice flights, Norwalk experienced what must have been an incredibly startling event for a young, novice aviator. “About 10 miles out [from the airport], I was cruising along and the engine quit,” he said. “So I kind of said some explicit words, set up best guide, got the engine restarted.” Restarted is a bit of an overstatement. Norwalk was able to get the engine turning, but it would only run at idle. Still, he was able to limp the airplane back to the airport safely.
Next for this college freshman is instructing while getting his degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Afterwards, who knows? But one thing is for sure—it will probably involve aerobatics. “Everything’s fun,” Norwalk says, “But I like aerobatics a lot.”
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.
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