The Boy Who Can Fly


Vrinda Chauhan, Staff Writer

image008Time flies when you’re on an airplane. Just ask Tommy Balderrama, who flies about four times a month.

Diamond Bar High School senior Tommy Balderrama, who refers to himself as an “airplane nerd,” has been flying planes since he was 11. His father, a pilot for 40 years, sparked Balderrama’s interest in flying when he was much younger, as they often attended air shows and went flying together. Balderrama began understanding the dynamics of flying a plane at the age of three, when he learned the basic controls of the plane by playing Flight Simulator, a computer software that allows the user to experience what it’s like piloting different types of aircrafts.

“I was nervous on the way to the airport the first time [flying a plane], but you get more composed when you get in the air and you start flying. It’s actually really relaxing, especially with the view of the city,” Balderrama said.

Since the plane had dual controls, Balderrama flew with a flight instructor his first time. He began flying with the instructor regularly, and by the end of his freshmen year in high school, he had decided he wanted to make a career out of his hobby.

Balderrama then attended Universal Air Academy, a flight school in El Monte, from freshman to junior year. At the school, he learned Federal Aviation Regulations, different types of weather (for when it’s safe to fly), navigation, and airplane systems. The challenging part of learning how to fly, Balderrama explained, was landing. The process requires a lot of skill and concentration, and Balderrama commented that it was a “talent” to score a perfect landing.

“Most of [the] things I learned [in] flight school were [when I was] in the air. It’s not really a classroom learning kind of environment,” Balderrama said.

But flying hasn’t been a completely smooth experience for Balderrama. He has had innumerable occasions where another plane almost crashed into his own. His Flight Aviation Administration flying test was one such dangerous situation, when he saw another plane flying the other direction just off the right wing of his own. Fortunately, the other plane’s pilot quickly realized this and steered itself to a safer area.

After graduating flight school and getting his Private Pilot’s License, which gives Balderrama permission to carry passengers on the plane, he joined the SoCal Flying Club. The club allows him to rent an airplane for an hourly fee of $130, which is relatively inexpensive. Balderrama flies four-seater airplanes at Bracket Airport with his friends as passengers. He frequently flies at night.

“I just like the feeling of being in the open sky. It’s just a different experience” Balderrama commented.

Being in the third generation of his family to fly, Balderrama hopes to take his hobby to new heights by flying for the Navy after college and becoming a professional pilot.