Who among us has not had a childhood fantasy to be a fireman, a doctor, a ballerina, or a rock star? It is less common for those dreams to be realized, and even rarer still for such goals to be attained as a teenager.
Chad Guilford, 18, of Vinalhaven, dreamed of being a pilot for as long as he could remember. Last year, at the age of 17, Guilford earned his pilot’s license, realizing his childhood dream.
Guilford can’t remember when he first became interested in flying. However, Guilford’s mother, Mary Ann Jalbert, recalls that he made his decision to be a pilot at age 9.
By that time Guilford’s parents had been taking him to see Blue Angels air shows “forever,” she said, which likely sparked an interest in airplanes at an early age. Guilford also credits time spent with his grandfather with encouraging his interest in airplanes and flying. “I used to, and still do, actually, watch all kinds of war movies with my grandfather. I can especially remember a series called ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ that was about the Black Sheep Squadron during World War II,” he said.
When he was 13, Guilford’s aunt and uncle bought him his first flight lesson in Auburn. “I was overjoyed when I received the intro flight lesson,” he said. With that, Guilford began his training in earnest. “At first I was very self-conscious,” he said. “I was always worried about my progress and how I was doing because I wanted so much to succeed. I needed someone telling me constantly that I was doing a good job.”
For the next three years, Guilford’s parents took him to the mainland for lessons whenever it was convenient. When he turned 16, Guilford got his driver’s license and was able to drive himself to flight lessons.
His mother had no qualms about letting her son fly at such a young age. “He was so passionate about it,” said Jalbert, “that I said ‘I’m not going to dash that dream.'” In addition, “he’s just so conscientious. He’s not a risk taker, he goes through the routine every time, so I’m not afraid when he goes up because I know he’s checked everything.”
Near the end of his training he met instructor Mary Build, who continues to be a mentor for Guilford. “When I turned 17 [the minimum age for a pilot’s license] I emailed Mary,” said Guilford. She agreed to help him finish his training. “I don’t think I’d have my license right now if I hadn’t been able to finish up with her,” he said. “As a high school student I didn’t have that much to do on weekends, but she did, and she still met me halfway in Wiscasset every weekend. When I had solo flights, she’d just sit there in Wiscasset waiting for me to get back.”
Guilford earned a single engine land license last July, and added a seaplane rating in August. He did his final training in a Piper Super Cruiser, which is a tail wheel airplane. “They are more traditional, I really like that,” Guilford said. “Most people add that endorsement after they get their license because flying them requires more effort and skills than a conventional gear plane.”
“Flying can be challenging, which is fun,” said Guilford. “You never do anything the same way twice. You can go so many different places. I like best to fly seaplanes and land on various ponds and lakes. It’s really beautiful, especially last fall with the foliage.” Recently Guilford joined the Knox County Flying Club at Owl’s Head, which gives him access to planes so he can fly on vacations and weekends.
This summer Guilford plans to haul his lobster traps and commute to Naples in his off time, where he will work for Build and her husband at their company, Naples Seaplane Service. In the future Guilford hopes to become a Navy pilot. Pending additional qualifying factors, he has preliminarily been awarded a U.S. Navy ROTC scholarship to Purdue University. He expects to study aeronautical engineering.
Guilford’s mother admires her son’s achievement. “He just knows where he is going in this life,” she said. “He made this happen for himself.” And though he has reached his initial goal, Guilford will continue to pursue this dream he formed at the age of nine. “It was, and continues to be an incredible journey,” he said.