Boy, 5, aims to be 'youngest pilot'

Boy, 5, aims to be 'youngest pilot'
He Liesheng celebrates with his son, 5-year-old He Yide, after the boy successfully piloted a fixed-wing plane around Beijing Wildlife Zoo on Saturday. The "Eagle Dad" seeks to have his son recognised as the youngest pilot in the world.

SHANGHAI - A man known for his tough teaching style is trying to get his 5-year-old son recognised as the world's youngest pilot.

At the request of the father, He Liesheng, the boy, nicknamed Duoduo, flew a total 47 minutes in two flights around the Beijing Wildlife Zoo in Gu'an county, Hebei province, on Saturday afternoon. The feat followed Duoduo's 20 days of flight lessons at a private club.

"I am preparing video clips for Guinness World Records and the World Record Association to get certification for my son as the youngest pilot in the world," the father said in a telephone interview from his home in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, on Monday.

"Duoduo is very excited about his brave act and is in high spirits."

The father added that he had asked for a day off school for his son on the first day of the new semester so that the boy could stay at home and give media interviews.

The father made headlines last year after the media reported that he had forced the young child to run naked in the snow. The reports generated controversy and gained He the nickname "Eagle Dad".

His next plan for the boy is trekking through Hoh Xil, China's least-populated area, in the northwestern part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The journey will consist of walking, riding a bicycle and unicycle, and driving a car in certain sections, he said. They will set off on the journey as early as the end of October, he added.

The father, 44, considers himself a new Chinese parental archetype in the tradition of the so-called tiger mom.

"Gradually, the public started to accept my education approach", which features a variety of challenges to help the boy become tough-minded, he said.

The father previously arranged for the boy to take part in an international sailing competition in Shandong province in August 2012, and to climb the 3,776-meter Mount Fuji in Japan in 15 hours one month later.

In the most recent feat, the boy, dressed in professional flight gear, flew as high as 100 meters in the air twice on Saturday. The small plane, which has two seats and weighs about 100 kg, took off from a runway in the middle of a field.

A trainer was seated behind the boy in the plane, giving directions. But the trainer stretched out his arms during the flight to show the boy was controlling the aircraft.

The father said the boy likes car and airplane models, and the idea of having him pilot a plane came up last year.

The boy learned quickly at the club, and the plane was revamped to make it easier for him to control, he added.

"Safety is the top concern, absolutely," he said. "We would never create an adventure at the cost of my son's life."

But still, the news generated mixed public reactions. "As a father, he ignores the feelings of the child and only pursues his own purposes. Is that the education approach we aim for?" said a blogger on the Sina Weibo micro-blogging service.

Another blogger said: "I admire such a father. I have been an aviation enthusiast since childhood, but I didn't have a farsighted father like him."

Even He's family is divided on his education methods.

"The men of the family support his method, while the older generation and women, such as the boy's grandmothers and aunts, disagree with it," He Lieheng, the father's elder brother, said on Monday.

The essence of the father's education technique is actually "teaching a child in accordance with his or her aptitude", He Lieheng added.

"From my point of view, traditional education focuses too much on textbook knowledge and fails to cultivate a child's personality and ability to overcome challenges."

Xiong Bingqi, a columnist on education issues, said that every family can adapt an education approach suitable for it, and a method suitable to one family may not be appropriate for others. "The essence of family education is communication."

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