JOE LEESE isn’t old enough to drive a car, but on his 15th birthday he flew a plane, worth more than $100,000, by himself.
It was his first solo flight, but the Evans Head teenager has been in training for six months.
Joe saved the money for his light aircraft flying lessons by working at the Evans Head Caravan Park on weekends, and he also had some help from his parents.
By the time his birthday came around, he had built up enough hours in the sky to qualify for the solo flight.
John Gardon, chief flying instructor for Flight North at Pimlico, near Ballina, said Joe was ‘understandably elated’ to be able to fly the plane on his own.
“Under recreational aviation rules, you can get your pilot’s licence at 15 as long as you meet the standards,” he said.
“When Joe first started his training he didn’t think he could do it (fly solo).
“But as he progressed in his training, his confidence levels increased.
“I’ve been working with him for six months, every second or third weekend.
“Flying is all about confidence and knowledge.
“There’s also a lot of self-discipline involved.”
When Joe arrived at Flight North’s airstrip for his birthday flight last week, he had no idea he was about to do his first solo flight.
Mr Gardon said he kept it a surprise because he didn’t want to get Joe’s hopes up in case something wasn’t right on the day.
“Joe didn’t know on the day that he would be flying solo,” he said.
“I don’t tell the students when their first solo flight will be because I don’t want to build up the anticipation.
“I also have to check their mental state on the day and make sure the weather is good.
“We look at their maturity levels before we let them fly solo. I have to think, ‘that’s $100,000 up in the air’.
“Everything has to come together on the day, and in this case it did.”
Mr Gardon said he had helped several teenagers get their pilot’s licence.
He said not every student had the privilege of doing their first solo flight at 15 – they were looked at on a case-by-case basis.
“I’ve had a number of students go solo at or around their 15th birthday,” he said.
“Some have gone on to have careers with the Air Force or with airlines.
“Flying is a great thing for kids that age to be doing, instead of causing trouble on the streets.”
However, Mr Gardon said many more young pilots were needed in aviation professions.
“It’s expected there’s going to be a pretty severe pilot shortage in the future,” he said. “It’s already happening to some extent.”
Joe, who modestly declined to comment, is planning to continue with his flight training and will get his pilot’s certificate in the coming months.
“His only problem is having to get mum or dad to drive him to the airport,” Mr Gardon said.