CHICAGO - The Chicago Air and Water Show doesn't officially start until Saturday. But Thursday morning, a star pilot from the show took a very special passenger on a ride he won't soon forget.
Boy takes flight with star pilot
At Robert Healy Elementary School, Simon Mei is somewhat of a celebrity. The 12-year-old boy embarked on the biggest adventure of his life. He took flight with Air and Water Show Pilot Sean D. Tucker.
"I think it might be fun. I think I might like see the clouds and I think I might see like houses and buildings and people waving," Simon said.
"When this opportunity came to me, to look to see if there was some interest from our students, Simon was the first that came to mind," Healy Elementary Principal Elizabeth Nessner said.
With a little help from Healy Elementary Resource Teacher Joe Fisher, Simon entered an essay contest. He wrote about the special bond he shared with his father and their many journeys around the city.
"I have seen all of Chicago by L trains or busses. It would be a dream come true if I could see the beautiful city of Chicago by airplane," Simon read from his essay.
But that dream turned into a tribute. Simon's dad, who he shared all those bus and train rides with, passed away just a few months ago.
"I think this is Simon's way of saying, 'Hey Dad, I'm gonna be alright. I was with you L, I was with you on the bus and look what I'm doing. I'm on a plane in the Air and Water Show in Chicago," Fisher said.
"This child needs this. Not just because it's something new for him, but it's something that's life-transformational," Nessner said.
"I'm giving him controls of the airplane. His magic carpet is going to do exactly what he wants it to do. Then if he really likes it, we're going to get him upside down," Tucker said before the flight, laughing.
So what would Simon's father have to say about all this excitement?
"I think he would say, 'Good luck!'" Simon said.
It was Simon's first trip on a plane. He was in the passenger seat, with Tucker at the controls.
"Now we're flying, Simon! Is that fun?" Tucker asked.
"Yeah! It's a little bit too fast though!" Simon said.
Despite the speed, Simon was a trooper. With a few waves and a thumbs up, Simon and Tucker took in all the sights from high in the sky. After a safe landing, Simon's smile was priceless. It was an adventure he'll remember for a lifetime.
"That was awesome!" Simon said. "It was like, a little bit scary, but I can handle it!"
"He was nervous in that airplane, but he's so proud now. He's going to be a changed individual by just this simple moment, a simple 30 minutes out of my life. What an honor for me, what a privilege for me, to be able to share that magic called flight," Tucker said.
"Someone like Simon will never have some opportunities that other children will have. For this to be an opportunity, it's a once-in-a-lifetime, life-changer," Nessner said.
"It's going to give him a little more pep in his step - a little bit more confidence to say, 'Hey, anything is possible. I can do anything I want,'" Fisher said.
Tucker said he asked Simon if he wanted to do a flip or two while in the air. Simon said, "No thanks!"
Simon's trip was part of the EAA's Young Eagles program, which has been around for 25 years and just passed its 2-millionth Young Eagle pilot this year. CLICK HERE to find out more about Young Eagles.