When Ian Baltutis, mayor of Burlington, was 10 years old, his dad gave him a toy airplane. After assembling its parts together, he became obsessed with aviation and spent his free time watching the planes flying in Minneapolis.    

“Back before you had to go through TSA to go to your gate, you could actually go and sightsee at the airport,” Baltutis said. “That was one of my favorite activities as a kid.”

Years later, his interest in aviation led him to earn his piloting license recently while serving as mayor of Burlington.

Baltutis' first model plane was a B-25 bomber that his father gave him. That sparked his childhood love for aviation.

From assembling toy airplanes to attending a high school with an aviation magnet program, Baltutis kept pursuing his passion at a young age. His high school partnered with airlines to offer technical training for students who wanted to enter the airline industry. 

But in high school, the aspiring pilot was forced to change his course. Fear after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused jobs in aviation to plummet.

“We saw massive layoffs in pilots, flight attendants and mechanics," Baltutis said. "So as a high schooler looking at job prospects that wasn't a great field to be going into."

Staying true to his background in engineering, Baltutis studied engineering and entrepreneurship at Elon and graduated in 2008.  He won a grant and started a product design company, Vibration Solution, that now sells more than 1,000 products across the globe. His company kept him in touch with the aviation industry: they provide materials to aerospace companies such as Boeing and SpaceX.

On his second run for mayor, Baltutis was elected in 2015. Although he spends between 40-60 hours a week on that job, he still manages his company. 

“Being mayor is technically a part-time job and does not pay the bills,” he said. 

Throughout his short yet prosperous career as mayor, he never gave up on childhood dream of flying. After intense 62 hours of training spread out over three years, he finished the training this month to get his license.

“Really the process is about learning the skills to fly, learning the muscle memory and being prepared to respond to anything that might happen when you’re in the air,” Baltutis said. "Emergency situations, losing an engine, responding to weather conditions, anything.” 

Baltutis says the most exciting part for him is seeing communities from above, and viewing the world from a different perspective. He has gotten to visibly see the progress on some of his initiatives as mayor. 

“It’s especially exciting when I got to do my night flying," Baltutis said. "We’ve been upgrading our streetlights to LED, and it was fun to watch all those roads that used to be bathed in amber light be bathed in snow white light."

Baltutis said the hardest part of flying is adjusting to the constantly changing weather conditions. And standing at more than six feet tall, he has to watch out while walking around the hangar. 

“Being so tall I’m always hitting my head on the wings,” he joked. 

After passing his final flight test, Baltutis grins while his instructor cuts off the back of his shirt after his first solo check ride.  It's a tradition that dates back to early days of flying where pilots sat tandem and your instructor would tug on your shirt tails if you were doing something wrong.

Now as a licensed pilot, Baltutis has reflected on the career dream he once had when his father gifted him a toy airplane.

“I think childhood me would be a little upset that he didn't actually pursue his career goal of becoming a pilot,” Baltutis said. “But a lot of things have happened in my life that were not originally on the radar.” 

For now he enjoys flying as a hobby. He hopes to catch some time on the runways whenever he has a free moment, while balancing his company and mayoral duties during work hours.  He hopes to see more frequent airtime now that he’s done with his training and can go on his own time. 

“But it’s not really done because flying is a lifelong journey,” Baltutis said. “There’s always more skills to build and there’s always more places to fly to.”