Oxford Area High School senior ready to soar
● By Steven Hoffman
Grant Talley learned how to fly an airplane before he learned how to drive a car.
In fact, if it weren't for his parents, Scott and Melissa Ortega, urging him to get a learner's permit, he might have delayed learning how to drive even longer. Why drive when you can log precious flight time soaring high in the sky in a Cessna 150?
“I was always fascinated with aircrafts,” explained Talley, a senior at Oxford Area High School who will graduate in June. “I always remember wanting to be a pilot.”
His mom agreed. “He was born to be a pilot,” she said.
Scott, who considers himself more of a car person, said that Grant has always been more interested in airplanes. At bedtime, his parents would often find Grant playing with airplanes instead of his Matchbox cars, standing on his toes to make the toy airplanes soar as high as he could reach. He would often ask his parents about how real airplanes could remain in the air when his toy planes did not.
“He would always be flying airplanes around,” Scott explained.
Grant doesn't remember taking his first plane ride when he was two. But his mother took pictures of the event, and they are displayed in the family's home. When Grant was five years old, his family took a trip to Disney World, but Grant remembers that he was more excited about the flight itself than the actual vacation. On the return trip home, the pilot allowed Grant to visit the cockpit.
“I was so excited,” Grant recalled. “I got to sit in the pilot's seat. I remember the pilot showing me what some of the gauges were for. He told me that if I work hard, I could fly someday, too.”
Despite his enthusiasm for airplanes, Grant didn't actually pursue flying until right around his 17th birthday. His parents drove to Kennett Square on an errand and they passed by the New Garden Flying Field.
“I immediately thought that Grant would be interested in flying,” Melissa explained.
On Feb. 8, 2015, Grant took his first lesson. He got to fly over his family's house and his school during the trip. When asked about what he remembers from that flight, Grant replied that it was very cold flying at that altitude in the winter. But both his parents say that they've never seen their son smile as much as he did after that first flight.
Melissa said that she remembers her son describing the flight as amazing.
As a pilot, Grant was a natural, quickly learning about how wind, air pressure, and even the temperature can affect the performance of an aircraft. He received training on the importance of pre-flight inspections, and also studied how to respond to various emergency situations that could occur during a flight.
Within just a few months, he was able to do his first solo flight, which took place on May 8, 2015.
“Grant progressed quickly to his first solo,” said John Tiplady, a flight instructor with the New Garden Flight Connection. Tiplady said that Grant has been a good student throughout his time at the New Garden Flying Field.
“It has been a great pleasure being Grant's flight instructor this past year,” Tiplady explained. “When I first met Grant, he was a quiet kid, but his love for aviation broke through. Now, he constantly talks about flying. He gets along great with everyone at the airport. I'm so excited to see where the future takes Grant in his aviation career.”
Melissa lauded the staff at the New Garden Flying Field for how supportive they are to young pilots.
“They make it so easy and so much fun for these kids who are really interested in flight,” she explained.
One of Grant's favorite experiences so far has been flying a World War II-era Fairchild P-19 at the large air show that takes place each year at the New Garden Flying Field. This plane has an open top and a wooden propeller, which offered quite a different flying experience for the young pilot. Scott said that it was really cool to see his son flying that plane.
Another memorable experience for Grant came on Aug. 25 of last year when he flew a plane for a three-hour trip that required him to make a landing at three different airports, including airports in Delaware and Maryland.
Grant has already logged about 90 hours of flight time. He keeps a log book where he meticulously charts details about each flight that he takes. He also recently passed a Federal Aviation Administration exam.
While Grant hasn't had any close calls yet, there was one flight where the pilot of another plane failed to announce that he was going to be on an active runway. Grant demonstrated good decision-making and was easily able to avoid the other plane without incident. Melissa admits that she's still a little nervous whenever her son is taking his flying lessons, but he has spent so much time in the air that flying has become almost—almost--routine for him. He said that he doesn't really get nervous before flights because he always feels prepared.
After graduation, Grant may be heading to the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona for a program that will take three years to complete. He has also applied to JetBlue Airways for entry into their Pilot Gateway Program, a highly competitive program that could set him on a path to achieving his dream of becoming a commercial pilot.
Melissa said that she marvels at her son's ability to work so hard for a goal. In addition to his school work at Oxford Area High School, Grant studies criminal justice and police science at the Technical College High School and has dual enrollment at Delaware County Community College. He is working on earning enough college credits so that he could enter Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University as a sophomore if he attends that school. He also started working a part-time job to help contribute to the expense of flying and attending college early.
“I'm amazed that he has been able to do all this,” Melissa explained. “We're very proud of him.”
That pride extends to his grandparents as well. “Grant's passion for aviation began when he was a little boy, and it kept growing as he got older,” said his grandfather, Rick Braun.
“We are very proud of his accomplishments and his determination to have a career in aviation,” added his grandmother, Nancy Braun.
His grandparents, Tony and Nancy Ortega, said that they are looking forward to Grant achieving his goals.
“He continues to amaze us every day, and we are very proud of him,” Tony Ortega said.
“We think he will have a good future as a pilot,” Nancy Ortega added.
Melissa said that Mary Humphreys, a guidance counselor at Oxford Area High School, has been very encouraging of her son. She also said that other youngsters who have a fascination with flying should be willing to pursue their dreams because there are people who will help them along the way.
“If there are any kids out there who want to do this, they should contact the local airport,” Melissa said.
If there's one drawback to being able to fly a plane at such a young age, it's that it makes typical teenage pursuits—like driving a car—seem, well, a little boring.
Grant now holds a driver's license, but he's looking forward to spending more time soaring in the sky.
“Flying,” Grant said, “is just more fun.”