Student reaches for the sky

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By Kirsten Laskey

Airports are always great places to be. The sprawling buildings of tramways, moving sidewalks and gift shops are the start of a great adventure. They’re the kick off to a journey, whether it is a vacation or business trip. The anticipation and excitement for what lies ahead clings inside an airport’s walls.

For Matthew Simmonds of Los Alamos, an airport represents the beginning of a different type of an adventure; it’s the start of his career.

Simmonds, 19, is currently enrolled in Kansas State University in Salina. Simmonds is a sophomore working to achieve a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical technology, otherwise known as a professional pilot program.

Friday night, Simmonds, along with his instructor, Hall Lewallen, flew one of the school’s planes into Los Alamos Airport to rack up a few more hours required to obtain a commercial pilot rating.

Simmonds explained that in addition to the regular general education requirements, there are several ratings that are needed to obtain his degree. These ratings are private pilot, instrument, commercial pilot and certified flying instructor (CFI).

To help acquire these ratings, K-State’s 2,700-square foot hangar houses a CitationJet, King Air, Bonanzas, Barons and Skyhawks.

K-State takes its students through all the ratings. Once Simmonds earns his degree, he will be qualified to fly for commercial airlines or the military.

While many students usually turn to the commercial airlines for employment, Simmonds said he is interested in going into the military to become a police pilot or a state trooper.

Currently, Simmonds is working on his commercial rating, which requires 130 hours of flying time. So he and his instructor have been flying around to Kansas City, Wichita, Colorado Springs and other destinations to obtain the hours.

Simmonds is well on his way to getting all the ratings. He has earned his instrument and private pilot ratings, which he said are pretty good accomplishments for only two years of school.

Lewallen agreed. “He’s a great student pilot,” he said. “In my point of view, he’s really motivated, very safe (and) very professional.”

When Simmonds receives his degree, he will be the first in his family to get a pilot’s license.

He has forged his own path in several other ways as well. Lewallen said, to his knowledge, flying from the school to a students’ hometown is a first at K-State. He added through this trip, they combined two to three weeks worth of lessons into one day.

Simmonds, who graduated from home school in 2007, got introduced to flying when he became involved in the local Civil Air Patrol at age 12.

“I love everything about it, honestly,” he said.

Although Simmonds said he didn’t know much about flying when he first started, over time, he “fell in love with it.”

Simmonds continues to be a part of the Civil Air Patrol. He is active in its Salina squadron.

He said he choose to make his love of flying into a career “because it’s a great career field. It’s a lot of fun … it’s just a great atmosphere.”

He has shown several family members what he is capable of up in the air. Simmonds’ father and grandfather have both been his passengers in a plane during summer break.

Were they impressed?

“I think so,” he said. “I hope so.”

Besides school, Simmonds said he likes to play the guitar and is a member of a band. He also works as a security officer for Hawker Beech Craft.

Simmonds and Lewallen left Saturday afternoon to continue Simmonds’ educational journey.

Simmonds thanked Coyote Aviation for allowing them to use its hangar for free.