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Collier teen gets private pilot license in record time during coronavirus pandemic

Eva Lobaton, 18, wanted to learn how to fly an airplane since she was a kid but she knew she had to work hard to make her dream come true.

"I actually wanted to join the Air Force," she said. 

Lobaton said she felt discouraged when she learned about their vision requirements, which would disqualify her from flying certain types of aircraft. 

Despite the disappointing news she did not give up. 

Lobaton, now a college student, broke a local school's record earlier this month after earning her private pilot license in 89 days, a flight training school announced.

Career Flight Training and Aircraft Rental (CFTAR) students usually take about eight months or 240 days to acquire the license at the Marco Island Executive Airport, said Alan Davis, president of the company.

Davis, who is also an adjunct professor for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Lely High School's aviation program, said he saw first hand how hard Lobaton worked to get to where she is now.

At Lely, Lobaton first took a course on flying drones and, in her senior year, she took a class with Davis to pass a knowledge test that would allow her to begin flight training.

Lobaton passed the test and won the James C. Ray Scholarship to pay for her flight training by the time she finished high school.

Lobaton said she came to the airport the very next day to start flying in the passenger seat of a small single-engine aircraft. CFTAR instructor Andrés Gutiérrez piloted the plane and explained to her step by step what he was doing.

"We started practicing and then once he saw I was getting the hang of it I started doing takeoffs and landings," she said.

Eva Lobaton, 18, prepares for takeoff, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, at the Marco Island Executive Airport.

Gutiérrez was preparing Lobaton to be able to fly on her own, but as she saw classmates already flying solo she felt discouraged again, she said.

"I was like, 'Maybe flying isn't for me,'" she said.

But Lobaton persisted, and Gutiérrez told her in June she was ready to fly by herself.

"That's when I was like, 'What? Are you sure?'" she said.

Lobaton made a flight plan, got inside a Cessna 150, put the key in the ignition and took off. There was nobody sitting next to her who could tell her what to do during an emergency.

"I thought I was going to be nervous but it was more just like instinct kicking in," she said. "Like all my training just kicked in and I just did what I learned to do."

Eva Lobaton flies her plane toward Marco Island on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020.

Gutiérrez said Lobaton averaged 12 hours a day either studying or flying and that she could have finished earlier if not for a few days of bad weather.

"The hardest part with teens is to make them study, but Eva was very dedicated," Gutiérrez said. "She read books and asked questions constantly. That is why she could acquire her license so quick."

On days that she could not fly due to bad weather she would stay in the airport to study or work fixing airplanes with a certified mechanic, Gutiérrez said. She knew the airplane inside and out, and she would get her hands dirty with grease without complaining.

Gutiérrez, who has been an instructor at the school for about four years, said Lobaton broke the record of a student who earned his private pilot license in 120 days last year.

Lobaton said her parents initially were worried about her catching the COVID-19 virus but she decided to continue practicing while taking health precautions.

"I think it actually helped with my training because not a lot of students that would (normally) come to train came this summer," she said.

Eva Lobaton performs a visual check her aircraft before her flight, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, at the Marco Island Executive Airport.

Lobaton said she would book an aircraft one or two weeks in advance and sometimes would fly twice a day if she could.

One of Lobaton's favorite things about being a pilot is flying at night.

"I liked at night whenever I went to Venice because the lights were very pretty," she said. 

Lobaton said she recently began studying biology at Florida Gulf Coast University to complete another life goal: becoming a doctor.

She said she will continue flying next summer to earn another license that will allow her to fly through clouds.

"I'm so thankful for her dedication to earn her wings because it is hard work and the student really has to want it more than the instructor wants it," Davis said.

Contact Omar at omar.rodriguezortiz@naplesnews.com, and follow him on Twitter as @Omar_fromPR. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.