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News >  K-12 education

Timberlake High School: Eric Gray flying toward his goal of being a pilot

UPDATED: Tue., June 7, 2022

Eric Gray of Timberlake High School has been accepted to Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake.  (Courtesy)
Eric Gray of Timberlake High School has been accepted to Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake. (Courtesy)
By Stefanie Pettit For The Spokesman-Review

Eric Gray knows a fair amount about working a ball on the ground and a plane in the air.

A senior at Timberlake High School in Spirit Lake, the 17-year-old helped lead the varsity soccer team to an Intermountain League regular season championship during his sophomore year and is a four-year letter winner on Timberlake’s varsity team.

But as much as he has enjoyed soccer, his eye is on the sky. It has been ever since he was a boy growing up in Riverside, California, where he had the opportunity to tour March Air Force Base with a friend whose father was stationed there.

They went through a C-17 cargo plane and a KC-135 tanker, saw an F-16 fighter jet and experienced the F-16 flight simulator.

“Something really opened up in me then,” said Gray, whose favorite toys were planes when he was little. “I was super happy. Planes are so very cool.”

He and his parents Nicole and Greg Gray, both therapists, and his sister Rachel, now 14, moved to North Idaho when he was 13, and he fell in love with the open spaces of the region. He got involved in aviation almost immediately, participating in the Aerospace Center of Excellence Sandpoint, or ACES, workshop programat the Sandpoint Airport, where he worked with other high school students under the supervision of a Federal Aviation Administration-licensed mechanic to build and repair planes.

Through ACES, Gray could earn his private pilot’s license. A pilot took him up for a flight when he was 14 “to see if I’d like it,” Gray said. “I not only liked it, I was super stunned.”

So he studied and passed his FAA written exam and worked Saturdays at ACES, earning one hour of flight instruction for every 15 hours worked, finally achieving the required 40 hours of flight time. His first solo flight came at age 16.

Once he had 10 hours of solo flying under his belt, he took his test, which included a variety of maneuvers in the air and three different types of landings.

In March, he earned his private pilot’s license.

“His drive and tenacity are second to none when it comes to his passion for flying,” said Casi Lupinacci, school counselor at Timberlake.

Gray did all of his ACES flight training while still playing varsity soccer, maintaining a 3.0 GPA, managing to get some time in hiking and camping with friends, and holding down a job. In the latter part of his senior year, he’s been working 36 hours a week at a restaurant.

He’s been accepted at Big Bend Community College, where he expects to earn an associate degree in aviation, with plans to then transfer to Central Washington University for a bachelor’s, also earning an airframe and powerplant license.

Gray hopes to then return as an instructor to Airport Pilot Training Northwest at the Sandpoint Airport to teach others to fly, and once he’s achieved the required 1,250 hours while doing that, he would like to apply to one of the major airlines to become a commercial pilot.

“I’d like to see the world, all the different places out there,” said the young man who has his feet firmly planted on the ground as he makes his way to where he truly wants to be – in the sky.

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