During the teen years it is not uncommon to watch the trajectories of young people point skyward, and many adults take pleasure in seeing them soar to greater and greater heights.
Chandler Jackson is the kind of 19-year-old who takes that literally. As a full-time flight instructor, he soars over the east side of the Santa Clarita Valley regularly, teaching men, women and youth as young as 13 what they need to know to become amateur pilots. He has been flying since he was 12 years old and this year began teaching what he knows.
“My father works in sales and marketing for an airline. My uncle’s a pilot. My aunt was a flight attendant and my grandmother was a flight attendant,” Jackson said. “So, I’ve always been around the airline industry.”
An Agua Dulce resident and a Vasquez High School student for his first year of high school, the young pilot’s training ground was the east side of the SCV, including Agua Dulce Airport.
“Agua Dulce has a pretty long runway and is surrounded by a lot of mountainous terrain,” he said. “It’s in a small valley, but the runway is just over 4,000 feet, almost a mile.”
Jackson also commented on the fact it has a fairly new look, including hangars that resemble red barns. “The runway is resurfaced, and it has nice painted lines,” he said. “It’s maintained really well.”
Though his family moved to Valencia and he graduated from West Ranch High School, he typically teaches students at Agua Dulce Airport and in Antelope Valley at William J. Fox Airfield, known as Fox Field, which is about five miles northwest of Lancaster.
Right now he has about 10 full-time students, plus some who are part-time, mostly in their 20s or 30s, but ranging in age from 13 to 65.
“You need to be 16 to fly by yourself and 17 to get your flying certificate,” Jackson said.
The young flight instructor is usually up in the air six days a week, with his day beginning at 5 a.m. “The best block for a lesson is usually the morning between 7 and 9 a.m. when the wind hasn’t kicked up yet and it’s not too hot,” he said.
Because of his proximity to Edwards Air Force Base, Jackson often has aerospace engineers taking lessons, and he sometimes gets international students. “I have an Australian student and another from Brazil; plus, I had one from Holland,” he said.
While pilots three or four decades ago were, stereotypically, white males, often in their 60s or 70s, Jackson sees the field becoming more diverse. Only about one-quarter of his students are females, but a number of agencies and associations are working on drawing more women into the industry.
The best candidate for a pilot’s license is “someone who pays a lot of attention to detail,” he explained. “There’s a lot of information you have to take in — looking for other airplanes in the sky, making sure the engine is running right. So if you find yourself going around the house and being OCD about how you clean it, you’re a good candidate.”
But even the most conscientious pilot wannabes have a lot to learn, which is one reason Jackson pays close attention during lessons.
“Usually once a day I’ll have a wakeup call. But, you’ve got to let them make mistakes,” Jackson said. “Every time they’re doing something, maybe coming in to land, I’m making a split-second evaluation, and if it’s not going to break something, I’ll let them do it.”
He would like to become a career professional pilot, and is looking at corporate aviation — flying private jets. But he also wants to continue teaching, because it forces you to study and stay proficient.
“Once they get their first private license, no restrictions, everybody gets complacent, thinks they’re invincible,” he said. “I’ve had a few run-ins with weather. That’s all what experience will teach you.”
The farthest Jackson has flown so far is St. George, Utah and San Francisco. He plans to fly to North Carolina soon, because his student purchased a plane there and needs to pick it up.
The 19-year-old’s bucket list includes a trip to Seattle to fly a float plane. And looking back at his accomplishments for the first 19 years of his life, it isn’t beyond the imagination to expect Chandler Jackson’s future dreams — whatever they are — will someday take flight.