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Pitman students dreams fly at 30,000 feet
Pitman student Jose Zapien sits in the driver’s seat of the airplane where he did most of his training to get his private pilot license. He is among the few teens that have received their private pilot license. - photo by MAEGAN MARTENS / The Journal
Pitman High student Jose Zapien knows why he chose the hobby he did.
“It is the sensation you get when you take off,” Zapien said. “You aren’t looking at things like you normally do. You start looking at things from a different perspective.”
Zapien took his first seat behind an airplane when he was 16 years old.
Since he was a little boy, Zapien said he was fascinated with airplanes. This fascination has driven him to spend two years “busting his tail” to get his private pilot license at the age of 17, while still attending Pitman High School.
“It is an achievement for someone in high school dealing with growing up, high school activities and working hard to get a private pilot license,” said Chuck Sanders, Turlock flight school instructor. “Most people who get their private pilot license own their own business and are typically in their 30s.”
Zapien started his pilot adventures at the age of 15, hoping to get his private pilot license before his driver’s license, Sanders said. Unfortunately, being 16 years old is a requirement to actually fly an airplane.  
The day Zapien saw an advertisement for a private pilot class at the Turlock Adult School is the day his dream took off in hopes of never landing.   
He started taking the classes and went one-on-one with the instructor getting in his flying time. It typically takes a year to get a private pilot license but with school, it was difficult to get the flying time in so it took Zapien a little bit longer.
“Sometimes I would go once a month, sometimes five times a week and sometimes I would fly twice in one day,” Zapien said.
In class, Zapien learned to maneuver the plane in different ways. He learned to scan for traffic in the air, and learned to look for check points so he wouldn’t get lost, he said.
The most difficult thing he said he had to learn was landing the plane. Some of the landings he learned was a short field landing and a soft field landing, Zapien said.   
After the required 40 hours of flying time and 20 hours with an instructor, Zapien passed his written, oral and flying exams to get his private pilot license, Sanders said.
“It is something really exciting, especially since where he is coming from,” said Eloisa Garcia, Zapien’s mother. “We are so proud of what he has done. He use to be behind all the kids, now he is ahead.”
Zapien was placed in special education classes in school up until eighth grade, Garcia said. He struggled in school and now he is above the kids in his class and in the meantime, he got his pilot license, she said.
Garcia remembers the first time she saw Zapien flying 30,000 feet in the air and the motherly instinct that kicked in the first time he flew alone, she said.
“I was so scared the first time he flew by himself,” Garcia said. “He was only 16 at the time.”
Now that he has accomplished his private pilot license at the age of 17, Zapien said he plans on moving onto the next level of pilot license called the Instrumental Rating License. This license will allow him to fly in bad weather conditions such as clouds, fog and rain.
“I am going to keep building up my licenses to eventually be a commercial air pilot,” he said.
He also wants to be an airplane engineer.
As of now, Zapien has no particular destination in mind when he flies. He said he just wants to see more airports and whatever adventures they hold.  
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.