The sky’s the limit

Hunter Shook ’22 has always been interested in aviation. After spending years working towards his private pilot’s license, he is well on his way towards his goals of being a Naval aviator.

Alaina Greenlee and Isabella Tisdale

Every child has a moment that they never forget early on in their childhood. For Hunter Shook ’22, this was the discovery flight he went on in Nevada with his grandma. “It was really cool which was a big influence,” said Shook. This hour-long flight inspired Shook to start what would become a year-long process that would change his life forever.

Shook grew up around planes and never got tired of them. With a father working for Southwest Airlines in Las Vegas, Nevada, his family has been some of the biggest influences on his flight career. “I always looked up at him and saw his office in the sky, and thought that was just so incredible,” Shook shares. “He’s always giving me resources, videos to watch, answering questions, contacts to call…just so much.  And [he’s] very supportive, no matter which path I take.” With strong family ties often comes a strong love for the art, and Shook’s family is no exception. 

In the summer of 2021 while visiting his father in Nevada, Shook began his intense training.  “Every single morning for two and a half weeks I was there I would wake up at five a.m. because it gets so hot there and would do you about two hours of flight training.” Hours upon hours of training prepared shook for one of his biggest moments yet: his first solo flight. 

“Just that control at your fingertips is so freeing””

— Hunter Shook '22

After months of training and years of dreaming, this was his flight. “That was very rewarding to see twenty hours in that short time period being applied to myself.” After a successful flight around Las Vegas, Shook was even more determined than ever to work on his training back in Iowa. 

Aspirations to become a commercial pilot have been on Shook’s mind since his childhood, but recently, he has switched his focus to the Navy. “You know, I’ve got one life. This is an opportunity to do far more than just aviation,” Shook explained. “On the ground, you’re leading enlisted personnel, and in the air, you might have that chance to save a soul.”

The C2-Hawkeye is his plane of choice. The C2-Hawkeye sends supplies and people to places in the Navy. The plane can also detect enemy aircraft and warn people on the ground about the plane’s presence. “I didn’t know anything about it until I watched a video of those fighter pilots and it just sparked an interest and I just went crazy researching all the different avenues to get to the Navy,” said Shook. A thirst for knowledge led to Shook applying for multiple naval academies during his senior year. 

Shook heavily praises his flight simulator, the X-Plane 11, for cheaper and more accessible practice. “I use my simulator every weekend,” Shook said. “It helped me get comfortable talking with air traffic control and the different controls on different planes.” However, outside of the simulator, there are looming challenges.

With a solo cross-country flight being a mandatory step in obtaining a private pilot’s license, this is a journey much larger than anything Shook has been exposed to. “I’ve done solos around here locally and I feel confident in that, but cross-country is long distance. You know, there’s no one for me to call on help for…so that’s a big, frightening thought.” Despite a twinge of fear, Shook relies on his abilities and goals. “Same with when I did on a smaller scale…just reminding myself how dedicated I am to this, where I want to be, [that] this is one step in many, and how prepared I am.”

After receiving his acceptance letter from the United States Navy Academy, Shook reflects on who got him to this point and the strength it took to get there. “There’s always new circumstances that you’re getting into it’s very wide-reaching world,” explains Shook. From discovery flights, flight simulators, flight school, and beyond. The work that goes into becoming a naval pilot is strenuous. But with the right motivation and support system, the sky will no longer be the limit.

Shook credits his determination and aspirations to his most predominant idol: Frank Sinatra. “I think Frank Sinatra definitely pushes me to my limit…He’s just a loving person. I mean, he has just so much love for life, and just going out there and living life his way.” Much like this zest for life, Shook in embodying the meaning, flying to new heights he never could have imagined.