clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

CPS student flies for first time — and it’s with an aerobatics pilot

Michael Harris, 14, went along for the ride with world-renowned pilot Sean Tucker just days before the 61st Chicago Air and Water Show.

Student Michael Harris (front cockpit) and Team Oracle pilot Sean Tucker at the Gary Jet Center.
Student Michael Harris (front cockpit) and Team Oracle pilot Sean Tucker at the Gary Jet Center after their flight on Thursday.
Megan Nagorzanski/Sun-Times

Not many kids can say their first time in a plane was with an award-winning aerobatic pilot.

Michael Harris can.

Michael just graduated from eighth grade at Burnham Mathematics and Science Academy in Jeffrey Manor. When the 14-year-old starts high school at Butler College Prep in Pullman, he’ll have the perfect answer to the question: “So what did you do over the summer?”

He’s been in the Becoming A Man mentoring program for two years. Jarvis Burks, a senior BAM counselor, has worked closely with Michael and chose him for the Young Eagles Flight Program because he and other counselors believe he’s stood out.

That’s how Michael ended up doing loops over Lake Michigan Thursday in a Team Oracle plane piloted by Sean Tucker.

“Michael’s a leader, he’s always been a leader,” Burks said. “I felt that this is an opportunity for him to expand on being a leader, this is an opportunity that no one else he knows has been able to do.”

Michael and Tucker climbed in the Extra 300L two-seater around 11 a.m. and took off from the Gary (ind.) Jet Center. Tucker and his team were practicing for this weekend’s Chicago Air and Water Show.

Michael was quiet, but excited before his first-ever flight.

“I wasn’t scared, but I was kind of nervous,” he said.

About 30 minutes and a few 250-mph rolls and spins later, though, he declared with a smile: “I feel great.”

Tucker was “pumping me up” over the intercom the whole flight, said Michael, who had seen the Air and Water Show a few times — but only from the ground.

Hollie Calmese, Michael’s mother, was “very nervous” for him to go up in the plane, but more excited than anything else.

The flight was “truly a blessing,” she said. “I couldn’t afford to take him [in a plane] myself, so for this to not only be his first but with Sean Tucker, the Sean Tucker, it’s absolutely wonderful.”

Burks, the BAM counselor, said Michael’s dream is to play in the NBA. But Burks hopes this experience “could be a stepping stone for him to try new things,” he said.

Michael Anderson, a curriculum specialist at Youth Guidance, the agency that oversees the BAM program, said seeing one of his students have fun while experiencing something brand-new is the best part of his job.

“This is what our real paycheck is,” Anderson said. “This is the culmination of multiple years of work coming to fruition — him having an experience that I wish I could have had when I was younger. And that’s why I do this kind of work.”