Some kids—like maybe you?—are obsessed with video games or superheroes or TikTok. Jacob Newson, a seven-year-old English boy, is obsessed with airplanes. And he already knows what he wants to be when he grows up: a pilot in the Royal Air Force. He even has a kid-size uniform.
But while he bides his time until he’s old enough to wear the real thing, Jacob has found an earthbound way to support the service he loves: taking very long walks to raise money for the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund, which helps veterans and their families in need. Jacob’s efforts have earned him headlines in the British press and gratitude from airmen and airwomen. He’s been invited to tour bases and meet celebrated pilots, including members of the R.A.F.’s Red Arrows, an aerobatic-demonstration squadron similar to the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels. He also got to fly a plane—for only a few seconds, but still, how many seven-year-olds can say that?
Jacob’s charity work began in 2019, when he climbed a mountain in northern England named Pen-y-Ghent—his father came along, too—and raised a total of $9,000 in pledges. Last fall Jacob was planning to hike the escape route taken by an R.A.F. pilot who crashed in occupied France during World War II and then plodded his way 15 miles to a rescue point on the coast.
The pandemic scotched that plan. So instead Jacob and his dad set off on a two-day, 30-mile hike in England that ended on October 31—which was not only Halloween, and not only Jacob’s seventh birthday, but also the 80th anniversary of the R.A.F.’s victory over Germany’s Luftwaffe in the aerial Battle of Britain. For that trek, son and father raised another $24,000.
Great Britain allows people to enlist in the R.A.F. at the age of 15 years and nine months, so Jacob will have to wait until April 2029. (In case you’re curious, the U.S. Air Force doesn’t take anyone younger than 17.) But this month Jacob’s dad gave him a taste of what his future might hold, surprising him with his first flight lesson. Son and father went up in a Piper PA-28 Cherokee, a small propeller plane, and when they reached 3,000 feet the pilot let Jacob take the controls for 15 or so seconds. (You have to be 17 to get a student pilot license in Britain, 16 in the U.S., but anyone in either country can take a lesson as long as the trainer is willing.)
“At first I was feeling a bit scared, but when the engine was about to start up I said I was going to be brave,” Jacob told reporters afterward, adding, “I wanted to loop de loop, but my dad didn’t want to.” Jacob also revealed: “I thought my dad was going to throw up.”
All in all, Jacob said, “it was one of the best experiences of my life.”
When Lonnie Chavis was four years old he pointed to the TV in his living room and told his mother he wanted to go “there!”
“She had to explain to me the whole thing about acting, that it’s not really real,” says Lonnie. “And I’m going to be honest, I was heartbroken.”
By the time he was six, Lonnie had signed with an agent in Los Angeles and began booking commercials and landing modeling jobs. At nine, he picked up a recurring role on the NBC show This Is Us, playing the younger version of Emmy-winning actor Sterling K. Brown’s high-strung Randall Pearson.
Most recently, Lonnie, now 13, stars in David Oyelowo’s charming directorial debut, The Water Man. With Oprah Winfrey as executive producer, the film aims to recapture the spirit of the sweet and fantastical family-adventure films of the 1980s, like E.T. and Goonies.
Named a standout at the Toronto Film Festival when the film premiered earlier this year, Lonnie plays Gunner, a bookish 11-year-old whose family has just moved to a new town. Encouraged by a local myth and with the hope of saving his mother, who is gravely ill with leukemia, Gunner ventures off into the forest to find the Water Man—a mystical figure said to hold the key to immortality.
“It challenged me. And it helped me overcome fears,” says Lonnie of the role. For instance, at the time, he was afraid of heights, and in one scene, Gunner has to climb up a teetering pile of logs. “Mr. David, he got me into the mindset of Gunner. He explained how Gunner was doing this for the love and the passion he felt for his mother.”
In addition to acting, Lonnie recently launched his own clothing line, Fix Your Heart. “‘Fix your heart’ means to have accountability for your actions and to be better to others,” explains Lonnie.
Described on the brand’s Web site as fashionable casual wear with a socially aware message, the idea came to Lonnie after he was trolled and bullied online, owing to the gap in his front teeth. “I thought to myself, Sure, I could get braces and fix my teeth, but can you fix your heart?”
The Water Man is in theaters beginning May 7