Teen gets ready to fly the friendly skies
May 5, 2009
By Chantelle Lusebrink
At age 4, a toy F-14 fighter jet given to him by his father sent Chris Gregg’s dreams into the blue. He’s been soaring to new heights ever since.
Now 13, he has logged more than 1,500 hours behind flight simulators and four hours behind the yolk of an actual plane.
“It’s just amazingly beautiful,” he said. “Just seeing the beauty of it and the feel of it makes me want to go back and back.”
Sitting in his room, Chris, an Issaquah Middle School student, has access to hundreds of planes he can test on his personal computer.
“I’ve flown fighter jets, dreamliners and commercial aircraft. Then, there’s the ones that are designed like soda cans,” he said, laughing.But when his mom Lynne Gregg realized their home computer could only take him so far, she enrolled him in the Museum of Flight’s aviation summer camp.
“It is so unusual for someone his age to have such a passion and know what exactly he wants to do with his life,” she said, adding it runs in the family.
Before Chris was born, his mom had studied flight and was on the verge of getting her pilot’s license, but her career got in the way.
As his love for flying intensified after summer camps, Chris said it became exceedingly difficult to part from his simulator flying long enough to finish his homework.
“I used to fudge to get my homework done,” he said. “I would just rush, so I could get back to flying.”
Like many middle school parents, Lynne said she began monitoring his homework closely and dangling a bribe — flying lessons.
“Sure enough, up they went and up we went,” she said.
Chris stepped into his first airplane to fly in summer 2007.
“I just thought, ‘I’m going to fly at last,’ and the first time I was so excited, I felt like I was going to pee in my pants,” he said.
He’s flown to Gig Harbor, over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, through the Puget Sound region, over Snoqualmie Falls and as far north as Everett’s Payne Field.
But it’s always the landing part where instructors seem to want to give him extra help, he said.
“I downloaded it and practiced for about two weeks and I became a magic wizard at it,” he said, of practicing with his simulator. “It was hard and I had to use my muscles. That’s when the instructor tried to help. I just said, ‘I can get it,’ and I set it down. It was just a nice, clean, crisp landing.”
“He really surprised us,” Lynne Gregg said of herself and the instructor. “He does some beautiful landings.”
A few weeks ago, Chris and Lynne Gregg traveled to California, to soak up some sun, but not on the beach.
The pair traveled to visit Burt Rutan’s Mojave Spaceport. Rutan is the owner of Scaled Composites and one of Chris’ idols. There, Rutan, other investors and companies build test planes and passenger spacecraft, hoping to advance flights to space.
On their tour, a guide said he hadn’t seen Rutan at the facility for nearly two years. But near the end of the tour, they spotted him. The guide stopped the bus and tracked him down inside, then came to collect Chris so he could meet him.
“What did he say to you Chris?” Lynne Gregg asked her son during a recent interview.
“He told me, ‘Just work hard,’” Chris said, shrugging.
“And? ‘To do well in school,’” she said. “It’s what I tell him all the time, but of course, coming from Burt Rutan, that’s different.”
After seeing the innovation and possibilities in flight, the two are talking about Chris attending Aviation High School, in the Highline School District.
The program offers all of the standard curricula for a student to earn his or her diploma, but lessons are geared to allowing students to focus their studies on aeronautics, aerospace engineering, flight and spacecraft.
“I wish that when I was growing up in Chicago, someone would have told me I could have been a pilot,” Lynne Gregg said. “I feel like our parents didn’t expect that much from us.
“I was always told by my father that I could do anything I wanted, but I wasn’t given examples,” she added. “That is what I’m trying to do different with Chris, give him examples.”
As for his future, Chris is certain flying will be a huge part of it, whether it’s as a commercial pilot, an Air Force officer and fighter pilot, or helping to design new ways to allow other people to fly.
“I’ve been interested in flying all my life,” he said. “I’d love to own my own airline someday, like Richard Branson’s Virgin America. One with the cool deals and all the little extras.”
Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.