Eden Roshberg may be Sanibel's youngest secret.
The fifth-grader has stepped far outside the circle of boyhood pursuits like chewing bubblegum and chasing snakes, choosing an activity adults would find challenging.
If old enough, the 10-year-old would be a licensed pilot, having accrued 40 hours of flight time in a small Cessna. Sixteen is the legal age for flying solo. He has piloted his parents across the state, jockeyed a space shuttle simulator in east Florida, dreams of designing a plane and flying a commercial airliner, has even been profiled by a Sanibel filmmaker.
He has named his aircraft design and manufacturing company Exsetta because "it sounds cool," he said.
The documentary "Growing Up on Sanibel" premiered at the BIG ARTS cultural complex in April. The 5-minute video of Eden flying a small plane is shown on YouTube. A Fort Myers instructor co-pilots Eden's adventures.
Having time this summer at Cape Canaveral in a space shuttle simulator, he'll have plenty of show-n-tell material upon returning to school in a couple of weeks.
"Flying is fun," said Eden, who turns 11 in October and has worked on his instrument and multi-engine ratings, all nestled atop a packet of pillows to see over the plane's dash. "And the more mature kids understand what I do. The others don't believe me."
Eden was introduced early. He flew as an airline passenger to France at age 2, picturing in his mind crossing the Atlantic "how amazing it was," he said. "And that one day I would be a pilot." That exhilaration was further cemented with a cockpit tour, he said.
By age 9, Eden's parents decided their son's obsession with flight video games and drawings needed a serious outlet. Paul and Valerie Roshberg offered Eden a discovery flight at a Fort Myers flight school. He took to flying like a swift, Paul Roshberg said. Eden in the last year logged enough flight time to qualify as a private pilot. His instructors at Paragon Flight hover as the boy conducts pre-flight checks, taxis, takes off, flies and lands the plane, Paul Roshberg said. Both parents relax in the back seat as their son steers them over Florida.
"We got used to it," said Roshberg, a Sanibel merchant who has stopped rolling his eyes when the curious ask about his son; it's no longer a novelty.
"Eden is not just playing," Valerie Roshberg said of her son. "He's that good, and that serious."
Still, it's difficult to digest a small boy zooming Florida skies at one hundred miles an hour, especially at a first introduction at the family's art and frame shop where Eden has a special corner. He's not short, but not tall, either. You know he can't see without the stacked pillows that sometimes slide as he flies. Time outdoors and his eyes are ringed in white like a sport-fisherman. But it's his presentation that bowls over doubters; very bright, highly personable, polite, a good listener and comfortable inside himself, Eden appears years beyond his age. He shares his passion in drawings and planes he assembles of cardboard. Listeners find themselves nodding in agreement with his ideas, forgetting that his peers are riding bicycles.
He also has a few funny stories to share. In one cross-state flight, the ground crew at a small airport nearly fell over as the boy emerged from the cockpit, he said. They stood in puzzlement because only the pilot's head was above the dash, the adult instructor in full view in the co-pilot's seat, he said.
"They've never seen that before," he said.
Dealing with tower controllers is the one issue that annoys Eden. Most mistake his identity, he said.
"They say 'OK, ma'am,'" he said. "And I say 'excuse me, I'm not a lady, I'm a young man.' Most of them know by now I'm a boy."