Sky high

Published 7:00 pm Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sixteen-year-old Justin Hansen is pursuing a dream to become a pilot after his first time in the air at the age of 12. Adam Harringa/

Sixteen-year-old Justin Hansen arrived at the Austin Municipal Airport Sunday with no idea he would be flying solo for the first time in his life.

As Hansen had already completed the necessary training and certifications, his flight instructor surprised the Austin High School junior with the news.

“He pulled off the runway after some practice landings and said, ‘Well, I’m getting out. Have fun,’” Hansen said.

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Hansen said he was a little nervous, but was confident he had the training, and knew he was ready. After all, it’s been his passion for the past four years.

Hansen takes to the skies for a solo flight during his trek for a pilot’s license. Photo provided

A pilot is born

Hansen remembers fondly the first time he rode in an airplane. In 2008, he and his family flew to Florida to see a relative, and the then-12-year old consumed everything happening outside his window.

“I just thought this is what I want to do,” he recalled. “It’s really cool how everything works.”

Since that day, Hansen said he has been working toward the dream of becoming a commercial or corporate pilot. He said he’d love to fly for Hormel Foods Corp., but he’d be happy doing anything that involves aviation.

“I’d be getting paid to do what I love to do,” he said. “As long as I’m flying, I’m loving what I do. That’s the ultimate.”

For the past four years, Hansen has absorbed everything he can about flying, spending countless hours on flight simulators, attending aviation camps, seminars and other events, and nailing the required tests and certifications as soon as he was old enough. He flew solo on Sunday just months after he turned 16 — the minimum age requirement — and he plans to get his full pilot’s license as soon as he turns 17, the minimum age he can do that. And after attending the University of North Dakota Aviation Camp, he knew that’s where he wanted to attend college.

“They have a great program,” Justin added. “They won me over.”

Justin says he has it all figured out.

 Family support

While no one else in his family flies, everyone is on board. From his parents to his grandparents, his family is excited for the day he turns 17 and gets his pilot’s license.

“This is a dream for him,” said his father, Tim Hansen. “He’s been wanting to do this for about four years now. That’s what he wants to do for a career.”

Tim said he’s not nervous, either.

“We’ve seen him fly, and we’re very confident,” he said. “We know he can do it. He spends hours and hours on his flight simulator. We know this is his passion.”

In fact, his grandmothers want to be the first ones to ride with him when he gets his license, according to Justin’s father.

They’ve all seen how much he enjoys it, Tim said, which is evident every time they go to Minneapolis, when he makes them stop by the airport to watch the planes, or the times he convinced family members to drive him to the Austin Airport before he could drive himself there.

“We support him, and we’re very excited, very proud,” Tim said. “It was a little weird [Sunday] seeing your son take off all by himself in an airplane, but it was very exciting.

“It’s great to have him know what he wants to do.”