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South Effingham student preparing for career takeoff
Jonathan Gum
Jonathan Gum recently obtained a pilot’s license. He flies every chance he gets. - photo by Photo submitted

RINCON — South Effingham’s Jonathan Gum has a “higher” career goal than most of his high school counterparts. He is well on his way to becoming a professional pilot.

“I’ve been taking (airplane) rides since I was three or four years old,” Jonathan said. “I was hooked from the start.”

Jonathan, 17, was introduced to airplanes by his paternal grandfather, a Vietnam War fighter pilot who lives in a fly-in community just outside Lebanon, Tennessee. 

“He loves going to see Grandma and Grandpa,” said Scott gum, Jonathan’s father. “He’d go every summer without fail. He can walk out the door, into the hangar and onto the runway.”

Jonathan’s grandfather restores World War II training planes

“He took me on a flight,” Jonathan said. “I sat in the front seat.”

Jonathan’s father, Scott, recalls the inaugural flight vividly.

“(My father) even used zip ties to hold him in to make sure that he couldn’t do something accidentally, because it’s an open-cockpit bi-plane,” he said. “If (Jonathan) decided to get crazy, he could just come right out.”

There was no getting rid of Jonathan, however.

“I was sitting on a phone book and a car seat so I could see outside,” he said. “Ever since then, I have loved planes.”

“He wanted to do it again as soon as they got back on the ground,” Scott said.

During his summers in Tennessee, Jonathan was airborne much of the time.

“(My grandparents) had a ton of friends in the aviation community and I would be able to get rides and introductions to lessons,” he said. “I did that for five or six years and at 11 I got to intern at a local airport maintenance shop. I got to shadow an airplane mechanic.

“He kind of took many under his wing (pun intended). He taught me about the engine, the electronics, the physics and all the stuff to make an airplane fly and how to work on them.”

Jonathan, who worked at the shop for free, is interested in the mechanical aspect of airplanes but he wants to be at the controls.

“I was turning wrenches,” he said. “I was taking cylinders off of engines, putting new instruments in and taking seats out so we could inspect them.”

An added benefit to working at the shop was that Jonathan got to talk to flight instructors and other mechanics.

“That was a good experience,” Jonathan said.

Jonathan was 14 when he took his first official flying lesson.

“I had one or two lessons that year and one or two more the next year because you have to be 16 to fly solo,” he said.

As he approached his 16th birthday, Jonathan picked up the pace of his studying.

“There’s a lot of knowledge that you have to have,” he said. “There’s a lot more to it than just getting in a plane and flying it like in a car. You have to know about weather, procedures, talking on the radio and there is a lot of science with and balance, and how altitude and temperature affect how you fly.”

Jonathan took a ground school class at Savannah Aviation.

“That kind of prepares you for the written test,” he said. “There’s a 60-question written test that is one of the first steps toward becoming a pilot.”

Jonathan said the test was infinitely more stressful than flying.

“I didn’t want to blow it,” he said.

Three months after passing the written test and another lesson or two, Jonathan embarked on his initial solo flight. It came after practicing takeoffs and landings with an instructor.

“That was a crazy experience,” Jonathan said. “You never know exactly how it’s going to be. It depends on the weather that day and how you are flying that day.

“It had actually just been raining.”

Despite the damp conditions, the instructor asked Jonathan if he was ready to solo in an Aeronca Champ.

“I did not know it was going to be that day,” Jonathan joked. “I was super nervous at first.”

His nervousness eventually eased and he made three circuits around the airport without any trouble.

“That was a good day,” he said. “My first landing was very good, I bounced once on my second my third was good as well.”

His father remembered something else about the accomplishment.

“One neat thing about it is that he took an airplane solo before he drove a car by himself, which was no big deal after flying an airplane by yourself,” Scott said.

Jonathan has other additional steps toward achieving his career goal. The senior is employed by Savannah Aviation through Work-Based Learning at South Effingham and plans to enter the professional pilot program at Middle Tennessee State University.

“I would also take some mechanics so I can work on airplanes on the side,” he said. “I want to build a plane.”

Jonathan, who dabbles with radio-controlled airplanes, leaves home at 6:15 a.m. on school days to work at Savannah Aviation. He spends 3 1/2 there before heading to South Effingham for his other classes.

Jonathan is an avid Work-Based Learning supporters.

“I get to go hang out with airplanes, get paid and get school credit for it,” Scott said.

Jonathan also gets an added benefit.

“I worked out an arrangement with the (Savannah Aviation) owner (David Scroggs) and he lets me fly planes at a discounted price,” he said.

South Effingham Work-Based Learning Coordinator Sherri Baggott said Jonathan is a great representative of the program.

“He’s the kind of kid any teacher would love to have,” she said. “He’s just a fabulous student. I am so thankful to know him.”

Baggott is current accepting applications for Work-Based Learning for the next school year. There are many career options besides aviation.

Students have to be at least 16 years old and in the 11th or 12th grade to participate. Good grades and regular attendance are also required. 

“They have to have their own transportation, too,” Baggott said. “The school bus doesn’t take them to work or home.”

Work-Based Learning applications must include a resumé and an essay that includes the student’s interests and work experience.

“It’s a wonderful program,” Baggott said.