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Never Too Young: Young Eagle/New Pilot Aims for Flight Career


Ellen McIlquham
New pilot Ellen McIlquham sits in Paul Poberezny's P-51 at the EAA museum.

Ellen McIlquham and Connor Hanson
Ellen McIlquham and Connor Hanson, her first Young Eagle flown.

September 26, 2012 - Last week we learned about Karl Klingelhofer, who at age 86 realized his lifelong dream of flying by earning his sport pilot certificate. On the other end of the spectrum, Ellen McIlquham, EAA 1070776, from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, became a pilot this past August at age 18. Although their stories are different, they both show that the passion for flight can emerge at any age.

Ellen seemed destined to fly. Her father, John, is an airline pilot who flies "triple-sevens" with United and also owns a Citabria. Yet it wasn't until she took a Young Eagles flight a couple of years back that she was motivated to pursue her private pilot certificate.

That happened in January 2011, when the then-16-year-old went up in EAA member Joe Bowe's Cessna 172 at an EAA pancake breakfast sponsored by EAA Chapter 509 in River Falls, Wisconsin. After they flew around the area for a half hour she was hooked, and soon enrolled in the Sporty's Online Course.

Ellen took her first flight lesson at Chippewa Valley Regional Airport's Heartland Aviation on October 4, 2011, and soloed a month later. She took and passed the FAA written exam the following January, then decided to take some time off from flight training so she could compete on her school's basketball team.

Back in the airplane in March, she'd fly three times a week, gaining encouragement from her dad as well as another accomplished young pilot, Tyler Stargardt.

"He (Tyler) really got me going through EAA through his chapter, and we also flew together about three times," she said. "And my dad's been just awesome. He was the biggest inspiration for me."

After attending AirVenture Oshkosh 2012, where among her highlights was getting her picture taken sitting in EAA Founder Paul Poberezny's P-51, Ellen scheduled her checkride for August 14. She passed with flying colors, and within a month had flown her own first Young Eagle, continuing the circle of flight.

She's now enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Stout with sights set on an aviation college like Minnesota's Mankato State or the University of North Dakota. Her ultimate goal: being a corporate pilot.

"I hope to have my instrument rating by the summer," she said, "then go for my commercial."

Ellen also plans to get her tailwheel endorsement soon so she can fly in Dad's Citabria. "He told me I need to have 100 hours," Ellen chuckled. "I have 70-something now."


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