VIDEO: Born to fly

Published 3:55 pm Thursday, September 4, 2008

Chelsie Peterson was born to fly.

“It’s never been daunting or scary to me,” the teenager said. “Both of my parents have their pilot’s licenses. I’ve always known I’ve wanted to solo and get my license.”

On her 16th birthday Aug. 24 — the earliest time she was able — Peterson took to the sky over Austin during her first solo flight as a fledgling pilot.

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“It was awesome,” she said. “It went very well.”

The daughter of Wayne and Kim Peterson of rural Dexter, Chelsie is a junior at Lourdes High School in Rochester. In between volleyball practice and horseback riding, she had been pursuing flight training.

Although 17 is the minimum age to obtain a pilot’s license, students can begin flying as soon as they can “see over the steering wheel,” Peterson said.

Flying runs in the Peterson family: both parents actively fly, and they even have their own Piper Cherokee 180 and a small landing strip.

“My dad’s really passionate about it,” Chelsie said.

Wayne learned to fly in his 20s, and Kim obtained a license “so she could be a better co-pilot for my dad,” Peterson said.

In late May, Chelsie began flight instruction at Austin Aeroflight at the Austin Municipal Airport under the guidance of Kyle Nelson.

Nelson said that unlike many of his students, Chelsie is flying because she genuinely wants to.

“She’s been a hard-worker, really,” he said. “A lot of people come just because their parents want them to … it seems like their parents’ goal for the kids.

“She liked going up,” Nelson said. “She always called and said, ‘Can we go flying today?’”

From the start of flight instruction to licensure usually takes about 50 hours, Nelson said. Students learn the most during their first 15 to 20 hours — which is when most drop out.

“In reality, there’s a big drop-out rate,” he said. “It’s easy to get discouraged. People just don’t think they can do it.”

Nelson, 19, who has been flying for more than four years, said about half of his students are between 16 and 21; Peterson is his only female.

“There are 700,000 active pilots in U.S.; under 5 percent are female,” he said. “Really, it’s a rare occasion.”

The reasons people want to fly vary, Nelson said, and many drop out immediately because it is too bumpy or they get sick. Austin Aeroflight works with students’ schedules; some fly as often as three times per week.

“If they’ve never flown before, we have introductory flight lessons,” he said. “A license is good forever. Every two years you need a flight review.”

Peterson said that even though she is sitting in a pilot’s seat during her free time, it doesn’t make her the coolest kid in school.

“Not a lot of my friends know,” she said modestly. “I’ve only told a couple of my really good friends.”

Peterson said her experience thus far has only inspired her to continue flying.

“I’ve been learning more about how the plane works, (and) I really learned what goes wrong and what to look for to prevent it,” she said.

Beyond getting her pilot’s license a year from now, Peterson doesn’t know how far she will take her flight education.

“Once you know how to fly, it never leaves you,” she said.

For more information about flight instruction, contact Kyle Nelson at Austin Aeroflight, 433-1813.

From start to finish — approximately 50 hours for instruction, testing fees and books — obtaining a license costs about $6,000.

If you are interested in flying, but want to “test the skies” first, Discovery Flights are available: