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From grade schooler to pilotFrom grade schooler to pilot

The power of a thank you noteThe power of a thank you note

Brandon Lagos was seven years old when a certificated flight instructor visited his elementary school.

Some 19 years ago, designated pilot examiner Sharif Hidayat, left, made a career day presentation to a seven-year-old Brandon Lagos. On Aug. 10, 2019, he administered a private pilot checkride to Lagos, right. Photo by Mike Collins.

The young second grader, still unaware of what that visit would come to mean, did as his teacher instructed and wrote the CFI a thank you note, adding his own personal touch by cutting out an airplane and taping it to his letter: “Thank you for sharing your job with us. I might be a pilot on[e] day. Look at this. Sincerely, Brandon Lagos.”

The instructor was Sharif Hidayat, then a brand-new instructor at the former Montgomery Aviation in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He cherished the letter and kept it with his personal things for several years.

Brandon Lagos wrote this note 19 years ago to thank Sharif Hidayat for a career day presentation about becoming a pilot. On Aug. 10, 2019, Hidayat administered Lagos's private pilot checkride. Photo by Mike Collins.

Sorting through his things after a move he found the note and realized that Brandon was the son of a friend he’d met in Maryland. “Is your son named Brandon?” Hidayat asked Ringo Lagos. When he found it was his friend’s stepson, he shared Brandon’s letter with him. And Brandon placed the letter with his personal things and forgot about it.

Flash-forward 19 years later and Hidayat is a designated pilot examiner. On assignment at Freeway Aviation at Freeway Airport in Bowie, Maryland, he glanced at the flight school’s wall of fame and spied a recent first solo for Brandon Lagos. "That’s got to be the same kid," he thought.

“So, I said to the CFI, 'You’re not going to believe this, please give me his phone number,'” Hidayat said.

The young Lagos is now a ramp agent for Southwest Airlines and works the overnight shift at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Picking up the phone at 10:30 in the morning, groggy with sleep, he soon realized this was that same CFI who’d spoken at his school all those years ago—and he wanted to be the DPE for Lagos's private pilot checkride. On Aug. 10, Hidayat checked out that little boy who wanted to be a pilot all those years ago.

“It’s what this is all about—seeing people realize their dreams,” Hidayat said. “This is a story that was meant to be told: Live out your dreams—and write thank you notes!”

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
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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