Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dan Bier is balancing his senior year of high school with flight studies and solo flights

Nazareth Academy senior Dan Bier spends a lot of time in the air, but he isn’t exactly racking up frequent flyer miles.

While keeping up with schoolwork and preparing for college, 17-year-old Bier is also earning his pilot’s certificate.

Bier passed the private pilot ground school test in the summer of 2013, and he began flight lessons the following spring. He has logged 51 flight hours in a Cessna 172 airplane, including solo flights under the supervision of an instructor.

“I was definitely prepared for my first solo flight, so I don’t think I was really that nervous,” Bier said. “The first thing I noticed was that with my instructor not in there, with 180 pounds less, the plane wanted to jump in the air.”

Bier, whose father is a pilot, grew up around airplanes. They took frequent trips to EAA AirVenture OshKosh in Wisconsin. Flying with his dad made Bier want to get his pilot’s certificate.

“I just wanted to get it done,” Bier said. “I wanted to do it earlier, but my dad wanted me to start driving first.”

Though Bier said he doesn’t know of any other teenagers in his neighborhood who are earning a pilot’s certificate, he’s seen through Facebook that young people around the country are working toward the same goal he is.

But Bier certainly isn’t the only student at Nazareth Academy with an interest in flight. In his sophomore year, Bier and his friend, Carl Robst, started the school’s Aviation Club. Bier said there are about 40 members now, and about half of them want to learn how to fly.

The club has toured Boeing’s flight center in Gary, Indiana, and the group attended a National Business Aviation Association regional forum in Waukegan, Illinois. The members also toured O’Hare International Airport.

When Bier isn’t with the club getting an inside look at flight facilities, he’s studying and practicing for his check flight — the test that will determine if he’s ready to be a certified pilot.

To earn his pilot’s certificate, a Federal Aviation Administration examiner conducts a two-hour oral exam, and Bier will have to make a cross country flight “by hand,” using magnetic heading, true course and navigating with a map.

“It’s annoying because with GPS nowadays, once you get pilot’s license, no one does it by hand,” Bier said.

Bier said it can be difficult to balance school, flight and life, and sometimes he has to focus on one thing at a time. He couldn’t fly for more than a month during final exams at school. He spends weekdays doing homework, and weekends in the plane.

“Right now I’m pretty preoccupied with flying,” he said. “I’m a gearhead. I like working on all things mechanical, like tearing things down and seeing how they work.”

Bier is hoping to attend Purdue University for college, and he eventually wants to pursue naval aviation.

“Wherever they’ll pay me to fly, I’ll go.”

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