Students of all ages flying high at Austin Aeroflight

Published 7:03 am Wednesday, August 26, 2009

While other high schoolers are at sports practices, club meetings or concerts, Tyler Wilson is in the air pursuing his favorite hobby — flying planes.

Wilson, a senior at Austin High School, is just one of the many people who have received instruction and training at Austin Aeroflight Inc. to become pilots.

On Monday, Wilson got his private pilot certificate — a process that took countless hours of lessons, studying and, of course, flying.

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“It takes a lot of hard work,” said Kyle Nelson, a flight instructor at Austin Aeroflight. “It’s a big time commitment, with school and everything.”

In order to be eligible for a private pilot’s certificate, students must be at least 17 years of age and have documented a minimum of 40 hours of time in the air, 20 hours of instruction and 10 hours of solo flying. They can obtain a permit to fly solo at age 16.

The private pilot’s license allows Wilson to fly almost anywhere — as long as the weather conditions are good. And although he isn’t certified to fly high-performance planes, Wilson is content with the fixed-wing, single-engine aircraft he rents from Austin Aeroflight.

Nelson currently has three high schoolers training to be pilots and five adult students, most of whom are getting their pilot’s license “for fun.”

“It’s an achievement, especially when they’re that young,” Nelson said of his high school students.

Wilson has been flying since November 2008 and would like to continue flying for his entire life, though he doesn’t plan to make it into a career. At first, however, he was drawn to flying as more than a pasttime.

“We flew down to Dallas for a wedding,” he said, “and after that I wanted to be an airline pilot.”

Now, Wilson plans to attend the two-year law enforcement program at Riverland Community College in Austin, but that won’t stop him from flying.

Flying planes is a “lifetime hobby,” he explained — something that he might not be able to enjoy as much if it were his full-time job.

Many other people seem to think along those same lines when they start taking lessons at Austin Aeroflight. If they are willing to invest the time and money, flying can be a worthwhile leisure activity for almost anyone not prone to motion sickness. One of Nelson’s adult students is 80 years old.

There is a fair amount of book work involved in the process to get a license, warned Wilson, but “it was all fun.”

Nelson suggested that people interested in flying should go on an “introductory flight,” a 30-minute plane ride that gives them an idea of what it’s like to fly a small plane.

And if they have the same reaction to flying as Nelson does, they won’t want to leave the air — “It’s addictive,” he said.