“It’s kind of a family tradition,” private pilot and local resident Chad Unrue said through his aviation headphones. Chad, an 18-year-old Canyon Crest Academy senior, was rather understating that fact. After 100 hours of flight training and over 300-plus landings and take-offs, Chad earned his private pilot’s license this fall when he passed his flight test with an FAA certified flight examiner and has now completed his certification for the high-performance Cirrus SR22 aircraft.
For him, this is a continuation of a family legacy that began almost 100 years ago with his great-great uncle who owned an airport in El Campo, Texas. This uncle was not only a pilot himself in a day when aviation was just beginning, but he had a brother who became a stunt pilot and wing walker. Chad’s great-grandmother even joined in on their barnstorming at a time when few aviators were capable of such daredevil flying and even fewer women were involved.
“Uncle Herman gave my grandfather his first ride in an airplane. That led my grandfather to go on to become a naval aviator and fly fighter jets,” Chad said. The aviation pedigree came from the other side of his family, too, with another great uncle who was a private pilot. Chad’s father, Bill Unrue, made sure to pass the torch. Bill, who himself got his private pilot’s license at a young age, asked Chad if he wanted to take a flight lesson.
Chad took him up on the offer and has been soaring over Southern California ever since.
“I was flying airplanes before I could drive a car,” Chad said.
Over the next couple of years, he continued flight lessons while balancing high school, extracurricular activities, and college testing and preparation. As he did so, his interest in and dedication to flight increased. From being a hobby and an activity he could share with his dad, the science of flight began to intrigue him. While planning to study business in college, he had an in-flight epiphany. He wanted to switch his intended college studies to aerospace engineering.
This sudden change of course is something that doesn’t faze a pilot, but did cause him to have to rewrite and redirect a few college applications at the last minute. He is still undecided as to where he will pursue his studies in aerospace engineering, but has a few scholarship offers already.
“I feel that I have a good connection to how a plane flies, so it was a natural choice to make,” he said. When he informed one of his flight instructors, Brad DeGusseme, his instructor at Coast Flight Training (www.iflycoast.com) at Montgomery Field, of his future plans, Brad remarked that he was sure that Chad would be successful in his future academic pursuits, “Because it really is quite unusual for someone so young to become a licensed private pilot. It takes a lot of commitment and work. I’m proud of Chad for what he’s accomplished.”
Besides his future college plans, he sees more flight hours ahead of him.
“The thing about being a pilot is that you are never done learning or training,” he said, standing next to the Cirrus SR-20 he regularly takes up. For his 18th birthday, he was treated to a ride in a Pitts stunt plane with famed stunt pilot Rory Moore, where he was allowed to take the stick and perform stunt maneuvers himself.
“It’s like the ultimate roller coaster. I would definitely love to do more stunt flying,” Chad said.
For now, the trick will be to balance the rest of his senior year with his flying, AP exams, and navigating the college admissions maze. One thing is for sure, wherever his final destination may be, Chad Unrue has set his sights high both in the air and on the ground.