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Gooden ready to fly
Teenager has flair for flight
pilot 2 jd
Brock Gooden performs a preflight inspection of an aircraft before flying it on a recent morning at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville. The 17-year-old is about a month from earning his pilot's license. - photo by Jim Dean

Brock Gooden has one up on guys his age bragging about getting to drive their dad's Camry.

The 17-year-old Forsyth County resident is, in fact, just a month away from earning his license to fly an airplane.

"It's unusual to see a young man his age with the flight preparation he has," said Gooden's instructor Charles Padgett of Lanier Flight Center.

Padgett gives Gooden flight lessons several times a week at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville. But it was his uncle, Claude Whittle of Cumming, who was instrumental in getting him on the runway.

Whittle is a former flight instructor himself, and owner of Sky Ventures, a local business that allows people to try their hand at flying via flight simulation in an artificial cockpit.

"My uncle turned me on to flying," Gooden said. "He got me started off on flight simulators, and I found out how fun it was, how much I liked it."

As his uncle watched him execute near-perfect practice flights in the simulator, he realized Gooden had talent.

"It became obvious to me," Whittle said. "Brock had a flair for flying on the flight simulator, so we got him started on the real deal."

Gooden went on to learn to fly a glider and took his first solo flight at age 14. And about a month ago he made his first supervised solo flight in a bona fide airplane.

He made three near perfect take-offs and landings on June 23 before taxiing back to the ramp at the Gainesville airport, where he was congratulated by family and friends.

His mother, Deanna, was worried watching him soar in the sky.

"It got me nervous," she said. "It's very nerve-racking when he's in the air. I'm glad when his feet touch the ground.

"At the same time," she continued, "we realize Brock is living his dream to fly, so we're not gonna hold him back from that."

Gooden, who is home-schooled, plans to join the U.S. Air Force after finishing his studies. If that doesn't work out, he's considering a career as a commercial pilot.

He has a lot of practicing and studying to do before that though, said Whittle, who added that getting a license to fly is an involved process.

"It's nothing like a driver's license exam," Whittle said. "You have to answer 200 questions, and if you get just a few wrong, you're busted."

Gooden said being able to use his uncle's flight simulator was a big help, and he feels he will be prepared when testing day comes.

"When nobody else is using my flight simulator, Brock's in there doing his thing," Whittle said.

It helps for planning an upcoming flight, Gooden said.

"I use the simulator to refresh," he said. "I can plan stuff I'm going to be doing in my next flight lesson."

Padgett said Gooden is progressing well, and he feels he's almost ready to get his license.

"Brock's very receptive to instruction," Padgett said, "He's close to being ready."

His uncle and instructor agree Gooden is on his way to being a card-carrying pilot, though it doesn't stop the teen's mother from worrying.

"When he's driving, I can't see that. He's just gone," she said. "But I can see him in the air when he's flying. That's why it's so nerve-racking."

Whittle tries to ease her worries as much as he can.

"Flying is a whole lot safer for Brock than getting on 400," he said.

Added Padgett: "Brock is an excellent pilot. He's a smart young man, and he has a long and fruitful career ahead of him."