High priorities:16-year-old flies solo before driving solo


 Donna Thornton/News Editor

    Most 16 year olds dream of getting behind the wheel for the first time as a licensed driver. Alyssa Garmon, 16, of Southside, aimed higher as she turned 16 last fall.
    Alyssa took her first solo flight – something she couldn’t do before turning 16 – before she soloed in the car.
    Alyssa’s dad is a master sergeant in the Air National Guard, and her mom served 10 years in the National Guard and 14 years in the reserves, and her step-grandfather is a pilot. She said her step-grandfather told her some time back that if she wanted to learn to fly, he’d pay for lessons.
    “When I turned 15 I said, ‘hey, how about those pilot’s lessons?’” Alyssa said. She said she’d always watched movies about flying, like “Black Hawk Down.”
    “It just really inspired me. I prayed about it and this is what I wanted to do.”
    She had been taking lessons twice a week for awhile – and had about 15 hours flying time – by the time she turned 16 and could make that first solo flight.
    “I didn’t think about driving because I was so excited about flying,” she said.
    She went for her solo flight, accompanied by her family and friends. She and instructor Robert Lee went up for a “go around,” she said, then Lee got out of the plane, and it was all up to her.
    “I felt alone,” Alyssa recalled, but she said when she started, she was almost like a robot doing all the necessary well-practiced steps out of habit.
“It was scary at first, when you start pushing that throttle,” Alyssa recalled.
After she was up in the air and got level and looked down, “it was like ‘I’m flying this thing by myself!’”
Alyssa said she brought the plane around and did her radio calls, then made her first solo landing. “It was kind of rough,” she said, “because I wasn’t used to that amount of weight in the plane.” But Alyssa said her instructor said she did fine, and she did three “go arounds,” before getting out of the plane.
“My legs felt like Jello,” Alyssa said. “But I had the biggest smile on my face.”
    After her flight, Alyssa went through the student-pilot tradition of having her instructor cut off the tail of her shirt. She said she didn’t know the origin of the tradition, but her step-grandfather had told her she had to do that and she came prepared – wearing two shirts.
    Wikipedia quotes Rod Marchado’s “First Solo Flight,” regarding the tradition.
    “In American aviation lore, the traditional removal of a new pilot’s shirt tail is a sign of the instructor’s new confidence in his student after successful completion of the 1st solo flight. In the days of tandem trainers, the student sat in the front seat, with the instructor behind.
    ‘As there were often no radios in these early days of aviation, the instructor would tug on the student pilot’s shirttail to get his attention, and then yell in his ear. A successful first solo flight is an indication that the student can fly without the instructor (“instructor-less” flight). Hence, there is no longer a need for the shirt tail, and it is cut off by the (often) proud instructor, and sometimes displayed as a trophy.”
    Alyssa is taking some time off from pilot’s lessons now, giving more attention to school, band, soccer, Girl Scouts, etc. but she hopes to get back to lessons this summer and get in a lot of flying time this summer.
    “I want to go to the Air Force Academy,” Alyssa said, and become a fighter pilot, and spend a portion of her life in the sky.
    “When you get in the air and look down, it’s a completely calm feeling,” Alyssa said, of learning to fly. “You can see all God’s creation. I remember I just thought this is where I want to be.”

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