FLYING HIGH: Young pilot takes first solo flight
Published 3:00 am Saturday, August 1, 2015
Colton Johnson, 16, has ownership of a Diamond DA40 airplane.
But not in the sense that he has purchased the lightweight aircraft. Colton has ownership of the plane in the sense that a pilot takes ownership of a plane.
He can fly the fixed wing aircraft with confidence in his ability and with the assurance that his training has prepared him for any situation that might arise.
Colton is a member of the Goshen High School Class of 2016 and also a member of the Pike County Schools’ Aviation Academy. He has earned his student pilot license and has 33 hours of flight time to his credit. He will celebrate his 17th birthday on Thursday, Aug. 6. The next day, he is confident that he will earn his private pilot’s license and take his mom, Marla Johnson, on a ride high above the beaches of the Gulf Coast.
“I’ve always wanted to fly. I don’t know where that came from, I just have always known I wanted to fly,” Colton said. “I guess I like adventure.”
Marla Johnson said her son demonstrated his love of adventure by starting to drive at the age of three.
“Colton came in the house and said, ‘I drove really well. I did,’” Johnson said, laughing. “He had gotten in his dads car and driven down the driveway. He got a dirt bike when he was 6 years old and then a motorcycle. He has always liked the adventure of driving, so when he said he wanted to enroll in the Aviation Academy and learn to fly, his dad, Troy, and I were all right with it.”
Pike County Schools announced the start of an aviation academy in conjunction with Mauna Loa Helicopters and Troy University in May 2014.
“I knew that was for me,” Colton said. “I didn’t think that much about that I would earn an associate’s degree through Troy University. I just thought about learning to fly.”
There’s more to learning to fly than jumping in the plane and taking off. Colton was eager to learn and hit the books hard.
In addition to taking flight-training courses at the Troy Airport, Colton was taking courses at Troy University in order to earn the associates degree in the two-year period.
He never took a day off. He was at the Troy Airport some mornings at 5 o’clock.
A lot was required of the students who were enrolled in the Aviation Academy, but Colton was up to the task because he kept his eye on the prize – a student pilot’s license.
His flight instructors, Mike Coe and Justin Ewert, expressed confidence in Colton’s ability to handle an airplane. But he had to muster up courage of his own.
“From the first day in the air, I got to ‘fly’ the plane,” Colton said. “I took the controls and started learning to maneuver the plane.”
With assisted takeoffs and landings and airtime under his “wings,” Colton was ready to solo.
The first solo flights were actually traffic patterns, taking off and landing. Then he was ready to take flight.
Mike Coe was in the cockpit with Colton when the engine started. Colton admitted that he had butterflies in his stomach.
“I was nervous, but after a few minutes I said, ‘I’m ready,’ and he said, ‘Go fly around’ and jumped out.”
Colton flew around for an hour and 18 minutes. During that time, he took ownership of the plane. That’s what pilots do.
On his second solo flight, he flew to Luverne. He now flies as far as Birmingham and makes “short” flights to Auburn.
He has cross county flights planned and is excited thinking about what the future holds.
Looking back on his flight training to this point, Colton said there was only one time when he had doubts about flying.
“The first time my instructor stalled the plane as part of the training, that scared me,” he said. “When you’re up so high and you cut the engine and the plane starts to drop, that’s scary. But, that’s part of the training. You have to know what to do in all situations. I’m confident now that I know what to do if the engine stalls.”
Colton talks in pilot’s language. He talks about flight plans and wind speeds and course headings. He has mastered the Diamond Star DA40-180 instrument panel, and he can fly the plane at night.
He is looking forward to having his private pilot’s license and to many miles in the sky. He is also looking forward to his senior year at GHS and to graduating high school with an associate’s degree in leadership from Troy University.
“I’ll already have two years of credit when I start college,” he said. “So, I could graduate college when I’m 20 years old. The opportunity to attend the Aviation Academy has not only given me the opportunity to learn to fly, the educational value is estimated at $55,000. I want to thank Dr. Mark Bazzell, the Pike County Board of Education, Troy University and Mauna Loa Helicopters for this opportunity. Not many high school students have opportunities like this. My family and I appreciate what the Pike County School System does for the students in Pike County.”
As much as Colton enjoys flying and as certain as he is that he’ll always want to “take off and fly,” he is considering following in his dad’s footsteps and going into some area of law enforcement.
But whatever Colton decides, he said the sky will always be his limit.