Flying Phenom

(Photo by Duane Zehr)

Bob Grimson '81
April 2, 2018

This story appears in the Winter 2018 Hilltopics issue

At 20 years old, Mitch Janssen ’19 is an instrument-rated pilot with approximately 900 flying hours, qualified to fly commercial and multiengine aircraft and as a flight instructor. He’s also the youngest person in the world certified to fly the Embraer Phenom 100 jet.

While pilot ratings for prop-driven planes cover categories, pilots must qualify for individual models of jets. The Embraer Phenom 100 is a Brazilian light jet designed for four passengers and first flown in 2007. Janssen did his qualifications at the CAE training facility in Dallas.

“The youngest person, they said, who went through there and got a rating was 22 from Mexico City,” he said. “Then I went through and told them I was 20 and they’re like, ‘OK, if you pass your check ride you’ll be the youngest one to get a rating.’ Being the competitive person I am, now I’m trying to keep it.”

His interest in aviation began in second grade, and Janssen earned his license once he became eligible at age 17. “At first, they (his parents) were kind of nervous,” the family and consumer sciences major said before noting he is teaching his dad to fly now. “It’s a little role reversal. He taught me how to walk, I’m teaching him to fly a plane.”

In addition to being a student-athlete, Janssen is a charter pilot/instructor for Synergy, Bloomington, Ill., and works for Byerly Aviation in Peoria. He estimated he’s flown 600 hours in the last year. With smaller planes, he can take student-pilots over downtown Chicago and St. Louis.

A recent charter trip over study day took him from Bloomington, Ill., to Cleveland to South Carolina and ended the first day in Florida. The second day saw stops in Mississippi, Little Rock, Ark., Colorado Springs and Utah before returning to Bloomington. “You’re never going to see the same thing twice. You always notice some- thing different. You see these cool sunsets and sunrises. When we’re flying to Colorado you get to see the mountains up close and from a different perspective.”

Janssen said professors have helped him, offering online work and other flexible arrangements. On charters, he takes advantage of down time at airports or hotels to study. When he’s not up in the friendly skies he’s on the mound as a right-handed pitcher for the Braves.

“I told my bosses … being on scholarship, Bradley comes first and flying comes second. It’s even in my contract.”

Between charter flights and instructing, Janssen works about 30-plus hours a week. That’s in addition to baseball practices, games, workouts and classes.

“Every day is a full day,” he said. “There are no days when I sit around and do nothing.”