Sunday, September 02, 2012

Teen flies solo: Falwell Airport (W24), Lynchburg, Virginia

Chris Tugman, right, and instructor Bob Walker stand next to the Cessna Skyhawk that Tugman trained in at Falwell Airport in Lynchburg. / AP

LYNCHBURG — The low-pitched groan of the metal doors gave way to a bolt of light as the sky opened up on the darkened hangar. 

 It was early yet, and the glare of the sun still was rising in the east. Christopher Tugman was ready to meet it.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” said Christopher, who just turned 16. “I feel ready for it. I’m surprised; I thought I’d be nervous, but I’m not. I’m happy it’s coming.”

Christopher, an E.C. Glass High School sophomore, hadn’t been 16 for even eight hours when he stepped into Falwell Airport on Aug. 21. But he was about to reach a milestone that had made much older men sweat: his first solo flight.

If all went well, by the end of the morning Christopher would have his student pilot’s license and fly for the first time without the aid of an instructor — and in the process he’d likely stand, for at least one day, as the youngest licensed pilot in the nation.

“He’ll be flying before he’s driving; how about that?” said longtime flight instructor Bob Walker, who has trained Christopher for more than a year. “It’s so rare that this happens,” Walker said.

To get a student pilot’s license, which is required to fly solo, the Federal Aviation Administration requires a minimum age of 16. This made Aug. 21 the earliest Christopher could take the challenge, and made it highly unlikely there was any younger solo pilot in the air that morning. “I can’t say someone won’t come in the next day or the next day, but at least for today, he’ll have it,” Walker said proudly.

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