Zimmaro takes flight toward future career

Senior Dominic Zimmaro (right) with his piloting instructor (left) at Red Stewart Airfield where he prepares to take off by testing the plane’s fuel and ensuring that all parts of the plane are in order.

Aimee Liu | The Chronicle

The sky is the limit for many, but not for senior Dominic Zimmaro.

Zimmaro has been flying for four months and is currently in the process of earning his pilot’s license. He said he had always been fascinated by planes, ever since his dad took him to see the Air Force Thunderbirds flyover at the Dayton Airshow when he was four.

Before beginning proper flight training, Zimmaro had already researched and practiced flying through simulations. Going into it, he said he thought flying would be relatively easy for him. Although he did find aspects of it rather natural, Zimmaro said he was also surprised by other elements.

“I already sort of knew how to fly a plane but what shocked me was all these other things you have to do,” Zimmaro said. “Flying the plane itself is like 10 percent, you also have to talk on the radio, run through checklists, keep the altitude right, and stay out of certain zones so you don’t hit other planes.”

In addition to the actual controls of an airplane, potential pilots must also learn the theory of flight, aerodynamics, navigation, and radio communication procedures. The first step is ground school, which Zimmaro said takes 40 hours and consists of taking notes and tests in preparation for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) written exam. After passing, students are allowed to get into a plane and begin actual flight training.

“It usually takes 60 hours for a person to get [their license], on top of ground school,” Zimmaro said. “The first few hours are learning the basics, then you fly in circles around the airport, then you get into more complex things like cross country flights, instrument flying, and night flying.”

While aspiring pilots can begin flight training at any age, they cannot fly solo until age 16 or obtain their license until age 17. Zimmaro said in addition to age and training hour requirements, there is also a medical component to becoming a certified pilot.

“There are very strict medical requirements if you want to fly in the long term,” Zimmaro said. “You need to get a super in-depth [physical] and meet very specific limits. You have to take a chest X-ray, do a bunch of blood tests, vision tests, and renew it every year.”

Before ever flying himself, Zimmaro had traveled on commercial flights. He said that the experience of flying a single-engine, general aviation plane is extremely different compared to riding on a commercial airline flight.

“It’s definitely more strenuous on the body because you really feel the turbulence,” Zimmaro said. “The movements are more jolty and you feel a lot more force, so it’s sort of like being on a roller coaster. It’s easier to get airsick and it’s kind of a shock to your body.”

Although Zimmaro said he has since gotten used to how it feels in a general aviation plane, the first time he ever rode in one “was absolutely scary.”

“The guy pulled the stick back which made the plane go up and it just felt like zero gravity and I felt my organs go up,” Zimmaro said. “I grabbed onto the door handles and felt sick for the rest of the day.”

Despite these initial challenges, Zimmaro has persisted in hopes of getting his pilot’s license and kick-starting his future career. He said he is already in talks with a Navy pilot recruitment officer and has begun applying for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) scholarships which would allow him to start military training while in college.

“Since I was really young, I knew [the military] was what I wanted to do,” Zimmaro said. “[Flying] is definitely a big part of my life because this is the first step to my whole career. I’m going to be flying a lot more during college and then that’s ultimately going to get me to my naval aviation career.”

Readiness for the military, however, is not the only reason Zimmaro flies. He said aviation training has also built important skills, like “the ability to process very quickly” as well as “really good hand-eye coordination.”

Being able to fly may also be beneficial for recreational use in the future. Zimmaro said that once you have your license, as long as you have renters’ insurance, you can rent planes and fly them to any airport that is open for planes of that class.

“My parents think it’s kind of crazy that I will be allowed to fly a plane soon,” Zimmaro said. “In the future if I don’t want to pay for an airline ticket, I can just rent a plane and fly there myself or with my family.”

Zimmaro said that he feels his training has prepared him well for flying, including handling emergency situations. Although he understands the common notion that flying is dangerous, he said he usually feels very comfortable while in the air.

“It’s a lot safer than people think,” Zimmaro said. “Sometimes the instructor will pull something and ask what to do, which can be really scary, but over time you get used to it.”

While Zimmaro has gotten to be more comfortable in the sky, many high schoolers are still learning to drive. He said that the controls of a car and the process of driving were quicker to learn, but the idea that driving is much easier than flying is not necessarily true.

“I would say flying a plane is way easier than driving, because there’s not as many planes up there you can hit,” Zimmaro said. “As long as you stick to your areas and you know what to do with the controls, I would say it’s way easier.”

While Zimmaro plans for aviation to be part of his professional life, he said that flying is something he encourages anyone who is interested to look into.

“As long as you stick to it, I think learning to fly is definitely doable,” Zimmaro said. “I did it and I’m not stellar in any way. You can tailor it to your own experience, and flying a plane is actually a lot easier than you think it would be. If you’re interested, I think it’s absolutely something you should do.”

Photo contributed by Tracy Zimmaro