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Kaneland grad ready for pilot career to take off

ELBURN – Right around the time Alec Koczka was learning to drive a car, he was getting acclimated to another driver’s seat – that of an airplane.

He said learning to fly a plane isn’t all that different.

“It’s kind of like driving a car for the first time,” he said. “It’s nerve racking, but once you do it, it’s the best.”

After earning his pilot’s license last year, the 18-year-old Kaneland High School graduate is planning to study aviation maintenance management at Lewis University in Romeoville.

“I’m going to have a double major – one end is flying, and the other end is mechanical,” he said, adding that he hopes to someday become a pilot for a commercial airline.

Koczka said he began pursuing a pilot’s license at age 15, but started taking lessons more seriously when he was 16, he said.

It was on his 17th birthday that he got his private pilot’s license.

He rented a plane and trained at Fly America in DeKalb under flight instructor David Gillingham.

“I would describe Alec as probably the kind of student that instructors really like to get,” Gillingham said. “He’s highly motivated, he’s got good focus, good judgment and good physical skills. ... He shows up for every lesson prepared, absorbs the information and executes it effectively. These are the easy ones to teach.”

Koczka said he’s been able to do solo flights to Peoria and Moline, as well as Clinton, Iowa; Madison, Wis.; and Monroe, Wis.

Although flying solo is liberating, he said that’s not the most thrilling aspect of being a pilot.

“I’d have to say landing’s the most exhilarating out of everything. Taking off is OK, but it’s not as hard. With landing, there’s so much more that could go wrong,” Koczka said. “Don’t get me wrong – everything else is fun, too.”

His interest in flying goes back to when he was 5 years old, he said.

He remembers his dad and his late grandfather taking him to air shows as a child.

He said he always had an idea that he would pursue flying as a career, “but that’s what really sealed it,” he said.

In order to be a good pilot, Koczka said he needs good judgment above all else. It also helps to be responsible, hard working and respectful, he added.

“It’s basically everything you should be. That’s what you need to do to be a pilot,” he said. “My parents supported me 110 percent of the way. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

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