Johnathan Ellis was just five months old when his mom, Patrice Ellis, took him on a trip to Alaska with a group of other women. When they landed, the pilot happened to be leaving the cockpit, saw the cute baby who just happened to be Johnathan, placed his hat on the infant’s head, unsolicited, and a picture, the image that was captured for eternity, was snapped. The pilot nor his mom had any idea in that moment, that that photograph would foreshadow what that baby would do in the future – don his own pilot’s hat.
“My mom showed me that picture and after that, all I remember is I’ve been interested in airplanes,” said Ellis, who said flying is definitely his passion.
Seventeen-and-a-half years later, Ellis is certified to fly single engine planes after being put through a grueling three-and-a-half-hour oral and practical exam. His results impressed his designated pilot examiner, Fred Reed, who flew in from Rostraver Airport near Pittsburgh to put Ellis through his paces, so much so that he told the teen he had been “given a gift” and that he was perhaps the best-prepared applicant that he could remember in some time.
After receiving his license, the first thing Ellis did was rent an aircraft to take up a couple of his friends.
Ellis now has his sights set on obtaining his commercial multi-engine license. His dream is to pilot 747s.
“Flying means a lot to me,” said the 18-year-old who trained at Randolph-Macon Academy (RMA) in Front Royal, Virginia, and who received his certification on June 1 – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve always been interested in it (flying),” said Ellis, whose father is Bishop Neil Ellis.
Ellis piloted his first solo long cross-country flight in May – a three-hour engine running time flight, from Winchester, Virginia, to Morganstown, West Virginia, then on to Bedford County, Pennsylvania, and back to Winchester. The flight included landings and communications at three airports.
His first international flight in early June brought him home to The Bahamas, which he was eager for as he was feeling homesick and wanted a plate of his mom’s curry chicken.
He flew a plane belonging to a missionary friend of his dad from West Palm Beach. Next to him was his co-pilot.
“It wasn’t my longest flight, but it felt good flying it back home, and it was my first international flight – and I hadn’t been home in six months due to the borders closing. But we got clearance and I was able to come home. I had sort of felt homesick, and it felt good because I was flying home to see my family.”
Since he’s been home, Ellis has had the opportunity to take a plane up. He flew to Andros, where he landed at two airports before returning to New Providence.
That flight, he said, was special because he flew to a Family Island he had visited when he was younger, but that was a trip he does not remember.
Again, it was a situation where his dad knew someone with a single-engine plane that he was able to make use of.
The day that pilot placed his hat on Ellis’ head, and gave him photographic evidence to look at over the years, was fateful.
Ellis, who attended secondary school in the United States, attended his first flight camp at age 13, where he learned pre-flight checks; three years later, at age 16, he began his requirements for his private pilot’s certification.
Like most people engaged in studies, COVID-19 threw a “monkey wrench” into his training and he went into a “holding pattern” as his school shut down in early April. But he and his mom found a flight school (AVED Flight School) that allowed him to continue his training.
He stayed with a family member who drove him to the airport to continue his flight training.
Ellis has plans to begin instrument rating training later this month at CTI Professional Flight Training, Fort Lauderdale, which will allow him to fly in “instrument weather” – foggy weather, low visibility weather – and allows him to also fly IFR (instrument flight rules), which is required certification for his next step.
It’s a program that can’t be done virtually. He is excited for his next step and said he hopes it does not get derailed.
Now that he’s enjoyed his mom’s curry chicken and gotten in his hugs and kisses, Ellis said it’s time for him to hit the skies again and indulge in his passion. He identified his passion early and encourages his peers to try their best to identify what they’re passionate about and seek to make it their career choice.
“Once you find the career, job or occupation that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life, and that’s why I chose flying as a career, because I love flying. I’m having fun and will never work a day in my life,” he said.
Ellis is also grateful he has supportive parents.