Cowlishaw allows dreams to soar

by Blake Seitz

Most underclassmen hope to earn their drivers licenses when they turn 16. Freshman Ben Cowlishaw’s goal is slightly different—at 16, he hopes to have his student pilot’s license.

Cowlishaw, 15, has been interested in aviation from a young age, a passion at odds with his upbringing: Ben’s mother, Lori Cowlishaw, has flown her whole life, but developed a fear of turbulence after college.

Understandably, she had no interest in getting her son involved in flight. Instead, another relative kindled the spark inside Lori’s son.

“I’m not completely sure when I started liking flight, but it was probably when my granddad took me to the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in the fifth grade,” Ben said.

Ben began experimenting with remote control airplanes and flight simulators soon after. He immersed himself in the hobby, and brought his mother along for the ride.

“He and I started out three years ago this summer. Ben was very good from the beginning, and used the knowledge he had gained from flight simulators to fly [RC planes],” Lori Cowlishaw said. “You have to really understand the mechanics of flight to get the hang of those things.”

Not long after—when Ben was in the seventh grade—the Cowlishaws learned of a summer camp run by American Airlines for students interested in aviation. Ben attended, and it was there that his hobby really ‘took off.’

“The instructors there were impressed with Ben’s easy-going nature and knowledge of flight history,” Lori Cowlishaw said. “He did very well, and was invited back as a junior counselor the next year, but he was too young.”

It was through this program that Ben learned of another opportunity offered by Monarch Air.

“We found a flight school out of Addison Airport where you pay a small fee [$59] and go up with an instructor to learn the basics of flight,” Ben said.

He signed up for the program, and his mother decided to tag along. Lori Cowlishaw went up in the plane with her fear of flying intact; she came down free from the phobia.

“My fear of flying went out the window,” Lori Cowlishaw said. “It never crossed my mind to be afraid, because it was just one of Ben and my hobbies.”

Ben, for his part, excelled during the flight. His mother describes her conversation with the flight instructor, Austin Mertz, immediately following the landing:

“I said to [Austin], ‘I’m so proud of Ben! Did he take the controls at all up there?’ It turns out Austin hadn’t touched the controls that entire time—it was all Ben,” Lori Cowlishaw said.

Following that flight, Ben made a goal to earn his pilot’s license. He took a few more beginner flights—including one special-clearance flight over downtown Dallas so Ben’s father could view from his downtown condo—and then started flight hours.

Before he can become a pilot, though, Ben will have to overcome numerous obstacles. The first is his age—as one might expect, not many teenagers are involved in aviation.

“We do occasionally get young pilots-to-be, but not as many as I would like,” flight instructor Mertz said.

Another challenge Ben will face is his health: in seventh grade, Ben was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), a condition caused by a low platelet count in the body. He missed much of his 7th grade year as a result of the disease, and is not yet fully recovered.

A physical is required before one can obtain a pilots license, so any lingering traces of ITP may affect Ben in the near future; this is especially significant because the physical has a serious impact on whether or not one can obtain a license.

The general consensus, however, is that Ben will soar over any obstacle in his path.

“Flying comes easy for some, but for most it takes a lot of work and dedication,” Mertz said. “Ben definitely has the right stuff to be a successful and safe pilot.”

Ben’s goal right now is to obtain his private pilots license at age 17. He plans to fly several times a week this summer to log flight hours towards his license.

After that, he can earn separate licenses depending on what path of aviation—transport, military or commercial—he chooses to take. As of yet, he’s undecided about the future.

“I’m not sure where my future lies, but I’ll keep going,” Ben said.

…And going, and going.

(For Ben Cowlishaw’s featured column on airline safety, click here)