By Alex Lippa
---- — PLAISTOW — Jake Rabideau is planning a grand exit from high school.
The Plaistow 17-year-old, a senior at Sparhawk School in Amesbury, will arrive for his Monday graduation and depart by helicopter, piloting it himself. Rabideau will land at the school to join the procession with the rest of his classmates before flying off with his diploma in hand.
“It was my idea, I was talking to my flight instructor and we were discussing this,” he said. “We thought, Why not just fly to graduation?”
Rabideau has taken flight classes at North Andover Flight Academy for the last two years and is on the verge of getting his helicopter license. Knowing that there was a large field where he could land his helicopter behind the school, he approached headmaster Louise Stilphen with the idea.
“I said he could absolutely do it,” Stilphen said. “I’ve known just how much flight has been a part of his life. It will be very exciting.”
Stilphen said the school called police to let them know what was happening and will be careful to make sure no one is near the landing zone in back of the field.
Flying became a part of Rabideau’s life at a young age. He started flying when he was 12, and it was a challenge at first.
“He was too short to reach some of the things he needed to,” said his mother, Marie Sapienza.
Rabideau really started dedicating himself to learning how to fly in 2011, and he has worked with flight instructor Mike Holland, primarily in a Robinson R22 two-seat helicopter.
“He’s just a smart kid and a really good pilot,” Holland said. “He was pretty much a natural right when he started.”
After a year and a half of flying with Holland, Rabideau finally took his first solo flight back in February as he flew over the airport in North Andover. Like any parent, Sapienza was nervous as she watched her son take off alone for the first time.
“Imagine watching your child driving for the first time and multiply that by a thousand,” she said. “That’s how I felt.”
Holland said Rabideau was the youngest solo pilot in the history of the academy.
Rabideau said he has always been interested in flying, but helicopters have fascinated him more than airplanes.
“I think it is because they’re a little more complicated,” he said. “Since I’m really interested in the engineering of things, it makes it more interested to me.”
Rabideau has already had many adventures in the helicopter with Holland by his side. They’ve gone down to Boston and flown over Fenway Park and flown along the coast over Rye Beach. They even landed the helicopter in the front yard of his home in Plaistow.
But his flight from Amesbury may be his most exciting one yet.
Rabideau will get to say goodbye to his friends before a perimeter is secured and he can take off in front of all his classmates.
“It’s such a grand metaphor,” Stilphen said. “We always say the kids will be taking off when they leave here, but he will be doing it literally.”
The next journey for Rabideau is to Daniel Webster College in Nashua. Rabideau will major in aeronautical engineering and hopes to fly utility helicopters for a living.