- Associated Press - Monday, February 19, 2018

BURLINGTON, Wis. (AP) - When John Pum departed on a recruiting trip to the University of Minnesota in November, he didn’t pack up the family car for a taxing 350-mile journey.

Instead, the Catholic Central High School senior headed out to Burlington Municipal Airport with his father, Aaron Pum. After thoroughly inspecting their rented single-engine plane, the two were soon airborne and headed northwest to Minneapolis at 130 mph.

That’s the preferred method of travel for John, a three-sport athlete who was seemingly born to fly because of his family background. His step-grandfather, Albert Gores, built an Acro Sport II plane in the 1980s. And Aaron Pum, 44, has been a captain for the past 15 years for Southwest Airlines and makes about three flights a week from his base, Midway International Airport in Chicago.

“I think flying just generally runs in my blood,” said John Pum, who competes in cross country, basketball and golf at Catholic Central. “I’ve always found flying real cool. I’ve always been really interested in it and I feel really comfortable up in the air. So I just decided to give it a shot and I’m really happy that I decided to do so.”

John Pum, who turned 18 in August, earned his pilot’s license in September, at which point he had about 11 hours of solo time in his logbook. Although he hasn’t flown in a couple of months because of the constraints of the high school basketball season - the 6-foot student is a starting guard for the Hilltoppers - he has accumulated 64.4 hours in a plane, 25.6 of which have been solo.

Sure, John Pum might be considered a little young for such a huge responsibility. But Aaron Pum, who said he had the eldest of his three children up in a plane in 1999 when John was just a few months old, feels the seeds were planted from an early age for the boy to grow up into a captain of the clouds.

“He was 3 or 4 months old when he started flying,” Aaron Pum told The Journal Times . “I was working for Midwest Express Connection at the time, so my wife (Mary) and I would travel with him on overnights. Anywhere we went that had a swimming pool, he was in heaven.”

John Pum traveled with his father on numerous commercial flights during his childhood and became familiar with planes, from Boeing 737s to single-engine Cessnas.

“I would visit the cockpits of the 737s he is the captain of and I just always found it fascinating with what’s going on up there,” John Pum said. “I was able to go to EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh) and just fly around in the backseat of Cessnas he’s been a part of.”

John Pum said he would frequently talk about flying with his father.

“Even if a plane is flying over the house, he’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s a so-and-so plane,’ and we’ll just talk about simple stuff like that. It’s just so much a part of my life,” he said.

Did John Pum have to overcome any fear of being on his own within in the cramped confines of a Cessna? Not at all.

“I don’t think it’s possible for me to be afraid of flying,” he said. “It’s been a part of my life for such a large amount of years. I feel very comfortable up there. I know when people feel turbulence, they get extremely worried, but it feels like a couple bumps in a car ride to me.

He said he’s become so used to flying that there’s no fear.

“I really trust in what I’m doing when I’m flying,” he said. “I know the plane is not going to fail, so I really don’t understand why people would be worried.”

The same goes for Aaron and Mary Pum. When their son is buzzing over Burlington, they said, they have no concerns. There are reasons for their comfort zone.

Their son is responsible. He’s an honor student at Catholic Central who has aspirations of pursuing medicine at either Minnesota or Michigan. Catholic Central boys basketball coach Kyle Scott said John Pum is “the hardest worker I’ve probably had in our program in four years.”

So this isn’t just any kid behind the wheel of a plane.

“I think he has a great temperament,” Aaron Pum said. “He’s very relaxed. As a pilot, you have to be calm and be able to tackle whatever issues may pop up and I think he has a good temperament for it. He has good hand-eye coordination so that helps because it’s a skill landing, taking off and actually manipulating the aircraft.”

John Pum, who was a sophomore reserve on a Catholic Central team that advanced to the 2016 WIAA Division 5 state championship game at Madison, isn’t necessarily a celebrity with his teammates. But there’s a reason for that.

“I don’t know how many guys on the team know he can fly a plane just because he’s so quiet and humble,” Scott said. “We were talking one day and, in passing, he mentioned, ‘You know, Coach, I’ve been flying by myself a lot.’ That’s how it came about. He didn’t come up to me and ask me about it.”

Has John Pum been hounded by any of his friends for a quick jaunt over Burlington?

“Some of my closest friends wanted to, but there are people out there who don’t trust me to take them up, which is mysterious to me,” he said, before adding: “It’s to be expected because some people are just afraid of planes.”

While John Pum doesn’t rule out following in his father’s footsteps as a pilot, it’s the medical field that interests him the most. What he does know is that planes will always be a part of his life.

There is simply a magic about it that one has to experience to truly appreciate.

“When I was coming in to land, I flared up at the last moment to slow myself down,” he said. “The wheels, when they first hit the ground, sometimes they let out a small squeal sound. … It was very relieving and I was just filled with joy and happiness.”


Information from: The Journal Times, http://www.journaltimes.com

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