By Tenley Ong
Crazy is defined as “intensely busy in a chaotic way.” But for high school students, it’s a way of life, from prom to graduation, SATs to sports meets, and more.
Taking a busy lifestyle to the next level is Benson Milam, a 17-year-old private pilot from Calhoun, Georgia.
A goal like a private pilot certificate isn’t necessarily on the forefront of most teenagers’ minds. But for Benson, life is a little different. Instead of school sports, he put his energy into his schoolwork and flying.
“He finished his school stuff junior year and is enrolling at an FAA A&P program,” said Darenda Milam, Benson’s mom. He plans to help mentor other kids around the airport and pay it forward in the way others did for him.
After his first Young Eagles flight at age 12, “The whole airport community took him in and showed him the ropes,” said Ben Milam, Benson’s dad. In return, Benson spent many days around the airport, helping with maintenance, washing and moving planes, and any other odd jobs that came about.
A couple of days after soloing on his 16th birthday, Benson received a birthday gift most teenagers could barely dream of. No, it wasn’t a car! Instead, his parents gave him a ’46 Aeronca Champ, which had previously been in the care and ownership of many of Benson’s mentors and friends around the airport. In early June, about a month after his 17th birthday, he passed his private pilot checkride.
Having recently reached this milestone, Benson turned his focus to a new challenge: flying into Wittman Regional Airport during the week of EAA Airventure Oshkosh. Although neither of his parents are pilots, they took turns sitting in the back seat, taking off Sunday from Calhoun and landing in Oshkosh on Monday morning.
Darenda played the role of co-pilot mom, researching Benson’s flight plan, AirVenture, and landing at Oshkosh. During this process, she discovered something she didn’t expect: There were several newly minted 17-year-old pilots flying in this year.
“We saw posts about several 17-year-old pilots coming up, and were like, ‘Holy smokes, these kids are killing it at life,’” said Darenda. These youths included her son, a dad and his triplets flying in separate planes, and a young man in his Cessna 140 with his little brother.
Darenda hopes by spreading her son’s story, she can promote the Young Eagles program. “I think it would be a wonderful tradition to gather these young aviators and celebrate them in some way.”
Darenda is active in the EAA Facebook group and the EAA Pics and Videos group, which have proven to be excellent ways to connect with others in the community.