Vernon student pilot Erik Urquhart

Vernon student pilot Erik Urquhart

Vernon teen on the flight path to success

Erik Urquhart, 14, has earned his student pilot permit after flying his father’s Cessna 172 in training and for his first solo flight

Erik Urquhart is no different than a lot of other 14-year-old Vernon teenagers in that he is a little more than a year away from being eligible to get his learner’s driver’s licence.

What sets Urquhart, a Fulton Secondary Grade 9 student who turns 15 on Tuesday, apart from his peers is his ability to ask this question of his father, Steve.

“Hey, dad: Can I borrow the Cessna?”

A member of the Vernon Flying Club, Urquhart has completed a number of required flight maneuvers and flying hours to earn his student pilot permit, which allows him to be in the cockpit alone when his instructor thinks he’s ready.

“I soloed on Aug. 23,” said Urquhart. “For the first solo flight, the tradition is you go up and do some circuits with the instructor, which is one takeoff and landing around the airport. When the instructor (Kathleen Poynton) feels comfortable, she gets out of the airplane and then you take off and land by yourself.”

To celebrate the solo, Urquhart took a selfie during the six-minute flight to show he was in the plane alone.

Using runway 23 (or “two-three” in the pilot’s vernacular), which runs north-south at Vernon Regional Airport, Urquhart took off into the wild blue yonder, alone in the cockpit. He headed out over Okanagan Lake, made a left turn toward the Vernon Army Camp and turned left to approach the runway for landing.

All the while, Urquhart was in touch with Poynton via radio contact.

“I was nervous, for sure,” smiled Urquhart. “I knew there was no one there to help me if I made a mistake.”



Poynton, who owns Full Moon Air Services Inc., a flight training and sight-seeing flight company, is impressed with Urquhart’s desire and ability.

“He’s talented,” said Poynton, who has been flying for more than 20 years. “He’s very ambitious, very keen on the direction he’s going in his life and puts in a lot of work and effort.

“There are quite a few teens that want to fly but Erik has put himself into a position early on with support from other areas. I think it’s wonderful.”

Urquhart’s love of flying comes quite naturally.

He was born in Hong Kong where Steve was based as a pilot for Cathay Pacific airlines (and still flies for them).

He has been around the world 15 times with his dad and his mom, who is from Sweden. There is a video of Erik sitting on his dad’s lap, his first time in small plane, with Steve and a friend at the controls though Erik is the one “driving” the plane.

When the family moved to Vernon in 2003, the Urquharts settled in Okanagan Landing, where Erik had a clear view of the airport and the planes taking off and landing.

“I remember going up in (Flying Club member) Dave Crerar’s Beaver airplane,” said Urquhart, so enthralled that he built a model of the plane for a school project at Okanagan Landing Elementary. The model today sits atop a shelf inside the flying club.

“I love being up in the air looking down at everything below me and seeing places you can’t see from the ground,” said Urquhart, when asked what it is about flying that, er, drives his passion.

“I also love the challenge of the takeoff/landing and being in control of something so cool.”

Urquhart began taking lessons in a Cessna 152 plane out of Kelowna because he couldn’t quite reach the rudder pedals and see over the dash in a Cessna 172 model.

He had about five hours of training in that 152 when an unfortunate thing happened to the plane: it crashed near Salmon Arm (nobody injured, and Urquhart was not involved).

Steve bought a Cessna 172 and Erik has been using the plane for training (thanks to a growth spurt which allows him to reach the pedals and see over the dash).

“When he flies, he pays for his own instructor,” said Steve, which is $70 per hour. “When he flies solo, he pays for the fuel ($40).”

Urquhart delivered The Morning Star and washes airplanes around the club to help pay his tab. An accomplished freestyle skier – there’s his love of being in the air again – Urquhart hopes to land a coaching gig with the Vernon Freestyle Ski Club this winter to earn some more money.

With his student pilot permit already secured, Urquhart plans to build up more hours in the air. He can get a private pilot’s licence at 16 and a commercial licence at 18. He plans to be a bush pilot upon graduation from high school.

Urquhart receives considerable moral support from the Vernon Flying Club – “Everybody here gives me tips and they think it’s pretty cool that a teenager wants to fly” – and 100 per cent backing from his dad.

“I didn’t push him, but I certainly support him,” said Steve. “It’s the sort of thing you have to have a passion for, and you can only support it if he has the passion.”