EHS student completes solo flight

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, May 27, 2015

When most high school seniors cross the graduation stage, they make plans to fly away toward whatever their future holds.

For Elizabethton High School senior Garrett Church, 18, that included soaring off into the horizon as he completed his first solo airplane flights after finishing the school’s aviation program. Church graduated from EHS on May 16.

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Church flew his final two solo routes on Friday morning and did his first pass on Thursday evening from Elizabethton Municipal Airport. He is the third student from EHS to earn the right to do a solo flight. To complete a solo flight, a student must fly three flight patterns on their own.

“I am really excited about this,” Church said Friday morning before taking off. “I have been waiting on this for a long time. This has been my goal.”

Church completed all four aviation classes at EHS and completed dual flights and training before going out on his solo flights. Aviation instructor Dan Mills helped Church complete his training.

Church transferred to EHS in his sophomore year so he could be a part of the aviation program. Mills noted only the top one or two students from the aviation program make it into the solo flight training program.

Friday marked the third time Church went out to do his solo flights. The original plan was for the flights to take place Wednesday, but the weather turned windy and Mills felt it was not safe to continue.

On Thursday evening around 7 p.m., Mills noticed conditions were prime for flying and called Church at the airport, where he also works, and asked him if he wanted to do one of the solo flight patterns. The final two patterns were delayed until Friday because sunset was nearing.

Church worked diligently making sure the airplane, a Cessna 172 Skyhawk belonging to the Watauga Eagle Squadron, was in good working order before getting in the plane to start down the runway.

Before taking off on his own Friday morning, Church and Mills completed two “stop and go” passes around the airport. Mills then left the plane and Church continued on alone, taking off and completing his final two flight patterns. While on his own, Church cruised over Elizabethton at 2,600 feet, the preferred altitude for solo flight pattern flying.

“This reminds me of watching my daughter drive off down the driveway after getting her drivers license,” Mills said, watching Church take off from the runway on his own. “You have to take a deep breath and know that they are ready. This is what he has worked so hard for.”

Taking control of an airplane and piloting it thousands of feet from the ground is a thought that might make some weak in the knees, but for Church it was the moment he had been looking forward to for years.

“I was ready,” he said. “I flew like Mr. Mills was still in the plane beside me. I could still hear Mr. Mills telling me what to do. It is absolutely beautiful up there. There is nothing like it.”

Church plans to attend Middle Tennessee State University to complete the professional pilot’s program. After graduation from college, he hopes to become a commercial pilot and then become a flight instructor. He also hopes to get his private pilot’s license before starting at MTSU.

Mills said EHS was able to continue the aviation program because of financial assistance from Lt. Col. Bill Powley, United States Air Force (retired). Powley covers the cost of passenger flights for beginning aviation students, and helps cover the cost of solo flight training for the advanced students.