Juniors take first solo flights at 10,000 feet

In the parking lot of the DMV on an October afternoon, Henry Hahn ’14 was nervously tapping his foot on the carpeted floor of his Audi as he awaited his driver’s license test. Forty miles away, but in a completely different world, Ross O’Shea ’14 sat in the cockpit of a Cessna 172 aircraft excitedly awaiting his first ever solo plane flight.

Bennett Victor ’14 had a similar experience this summer, as he sat sweating in an un-airconditioned cockpit with the sweltering June sun beating down on his skin. The only relief came as he pushed his throttle down and the wind whistled through the window of his five passenger aircraft. On that day, Victor was the only occupant for the first time.

For a few people, the age 16 represents a more ambitious milestone: their first ever solo flight. The solo flight is one of the last stages in the process to get a license, and is often said to be the most monumental step.

Amiya Brown ’14, O’Shea, and Victor all sat alone in the cockpit of planes speeding down the runway before they ever sat alone in the front seat of a car. For them, sailing and whooshing past clouds at 10,000 feet above the earth was a more important experience than turning a car five times in traffic on a city street. Learning to pilot an aircraft requires years of dedication and the will to become a master of the instruments and technical skill.

At this stage, training pilots are generally just traveling from point A to point B, “and trying to stay out of trouble,” Brown said.

However, one requirement of license training is puporsefully stalling your aircraft and recovering from the stall.

“Sometimes we do practice more mundane maneuvers such as landings, touch and goes, [and] slips,” Victor said.

All three students started their training in ninth grade.  The last stage to getting a license has several requirements, including solo flights at night and a so-called cross country flight, which in reality is just a flight with several takeoffs and landings. To complete this last stage of training, an applicant must be 17 years old.

What impressed Brown, O’Shea and Victor the most about flying was the expansive views a pilot sees from the cockpit.

“Flying gives you a distinctive perspective which is both beautiful and telling,” Brown said, “My most memorable flying experience was a night flight cruising up Lake Michigan, directly alongside the Chicago skyline. It was just an amazing sight. The lights of the city, and the buildings in all shapes and sizes sparkled and shimmered like you couldn’t believe – close enough to touch. I was kind of amazed that Homeland Security would allow a small plane to have that kind of proximity to a major city.”

Brown quoted Leonardo da Vinci on the subject of flying: “’Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

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