Landon Casstevens ’20 rides in the rear-facing back seat while commercial pilot Louis Panuski instructs Tristan Hostak '20 (in the seat behind Landon, not shown in photo).

Two thousand feet above the Person County Airport, the small plane bounces 17-year-old North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics student Tristan Hostak around a little as the wind pushes it side to side. The far horizon is hazy, but the space around the plane is clear and blue and deep, and below pass brown farm fields and tiny rooftops, subdivisions and shopping centers, ribbons of highway, ponds, lakes -- the abstract art of Earth.

Through his headset, Tristan hears the pilot to his left: “Okay, put your right hand on the wheel and your left hand in your lap and just relax.” Tristan breathes deeply and does it. The buzzy hum of the propeller pulling the single-engine plane through the sky fills the cabin.

The pilot lets go of his wheel. “Ok, good,” he says. “The plane is yours now.”

Just like that, Tristan ’20 is flying the Piper Saratoga. It’s the first time he’s ever put his hands on an aircraft’s controls.

Tristan, like the 15 other students in Philip Rash’s Aviation Mini-Term, has completed nearly 12 hours of instruction and simulator training during the Mini-Term’s “ground school” earlier in the week. He’s prepared. Beside him sits Louis Panuski who is the father of Mini-Term student Benjamin Panuski ’20, a commercial pilot for American Airlines and, most importantly in this moment, a certified flight instructor. Louis Panuski arrived earlier in the morning from the airport in Concord, North Carolina, to volunteer his time and plane for the Mini-Term.

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Originally published March 21, 2019.

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