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Youngster feels sky high over surprise plane flight

By Staff | Sep 29, 2010

Four-year-old Devin Little stands next to the six-seat Cessna Centurion, which he later helped fly over Sanibel Island.

Some children reach for the clouds in their dreams, but only a few actually make it by the time they turn 4.

Devin Hayes Little is one of those lucky few.

The Atlanta, Ga. native, whose grandmother Nola Francis is a long-time Sanibel resident and business owner, realized his dreams of bcoming a pilot last Friday morning when he helped fly a small aircraft — a six-seat Cessna Centurion — in the skies above the island.

"He has always been obsessed with airplanes," explained Francis, who has owned and operated Sandpiper Of Sanibel since 1983. "He knows everything about them. He watches pilot training videos and can identify almost any aircraft — but he prefers multi-engine jets."

On Sept. 24, Francis and her family — daughter Stephanie, son-in-law Andy and twin grandkids Devin and Maya awoke early and traveled to Page Field in Fort Myers. They didn’t tell the youngsters what they were doing up so early, but they told them they were heading to the airport and they had to wear costumes. Maya dressed up as a ballerina, while Devin wore his pilot’s costume.

Nola Francis, left, pictured with her grandchildren Maya and Devin, along with friend Tom Louwers following their flight last week.

"He’s been a pilot for Halloween for the past three years," noted Francis. "This year he wanted to be a jet, but he’s going to be a pilot again because his mother couldn’t make a jet costume."

Thanks to the assistance of fellow islander and longtime friend Tom Louwers, whose son is a pilot for JetBlue, Francis and her family arrived at Page Field where they met pilot David DeHondt. Making their way through a hanger and onto the tarmac, Devin was asked by DeHondt if he could assist him with the pre-flight inspection of his plane. Of course, the gleaming child gladly obliged.

"He helped him check the landing gear, the propellor, the wing flaps… everything," said Francis, who added that Devin likes to be called by his nickname, "Captain Little."

To add to the surprise, DeHondt invited the group onto the Cessna and took them on an hour-long flight in the skies over Southwest Florida.

"We flew over Sanibel — we saw my house and my business," she added. "And Devin got to fly the plane, too. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful experience."

Shaking hands with pilot David DeHondt, Little helped him conduct the pre-flight inspection.

Louwers said that he was pleased to have helped make the dreams of a young child come true.

"That boy reminded me of something that I had seen in my own son — an admiration for flying," said Louwers. "When I saw the look on his face, it was like a little flashback to my son. I like to see kids when they are happy."

Following the flight, on the way back to Sanibel from the airport, Francis said that Devin didn’t say much.

"I think he was still trying to absorb everything he just did," she added, noting that he recently was recognized as Student Of The Week at his elementary school. "He’s kind of an old soul, and I think he really deserved to take part in that experience. It was like a dream come true for him.

And more than likely, "Captain Little" will continue to reach for the clouds. He already knows the way.

Devin is shown steering the Cessna from the cockpit.


Devin Little models his pilot's uniform.