Young Spider takes flight

May 2, 2022


As a teenager, Jonathan LaPrade was known for having his head in the clouds. Literally.

“I think most pilots would say the same thing. You fly for your first time, and then you just don't let it go,” LaPrade said. “You can't. It's impossible.”

The sophomore spent most of his childhood with his feet on the ground, playing flight simulator video games. And though he had never been in an airplane, he knew he wanted to be a pilot. LaPrade's parents took him and his brother to an airshow in 2017, and he was hooked.

“I got to finally see all these planes I saw in these games in real life,” he said. “In the games, they are tiny and you're just looking at them on the screen. But when you hear the pounding of the engines and the propellers spinning through the air, and the noise of something flying past at 300 miles an hour, you start to think: ‘That is something I want to be a part of.’”

He decided to take a gap year to pursue his pilot’s license before coming to the University of Richmond. A family friend who flies for local police departments agreed to take LaPrade for a ride along in the air one night. It was his first time on a plane.

“It was incredible,” he said. “You could see these lights whizzing by as the engine spooled up and gained air speed. And slowly the ground getting farther and farther away from you. Since it was night, eventually it disappeared. It was just black. And then we got up to cruising altitude, and you could see the lights of Richmond and all these cars driving by. It was like a light show.”

Ever since, he tries to fly at least once a week. He took flying lessons with an instructor, then pursued 50 hours of flying to earn his pilot’s license during his gap year. He was flying solo within six months. LaPrade hopes to become a professional pilot after graduating from UR.

“Flying is a skill that many people can do, they just think they can't,” LaPrade said. “It takes a lot of commitment, but if you want to fly, you can.”