W - Student pilot Feature IMG 3947 copy

Andrew Geelhoed “gets his wings clipped” by Express Air Flight Instructor, Randall Taylor. Geelhoed successfully completed his first solo flight on his sixteenth birthday at Keystone Heights Airport on May 9.

Unlike most boys, when Andrew Geelhoed turned 16 on May 9, he probably wasn't too concerned with getting his driver's license.

When he awoke for his birthday, he drove from his High Springs home to the airport in Keystone Heights with his mother Kathy for his first solo flight.

"I was so nervous," Andrew said. His mother was no less worried.

Ever since he can remember, Andrew has been interested in planes and flying. He started his training in the virtual world with Microsoft Flight Sim X.

The Santa Fe High School sophomore first took the controls of a real plane when he was 12. A coworker of his dad with the Gainesville Civil Air Patrol bought him lessons. He was a little scared of his first flight, but that quickly changed, he said.

"I couldn't believe it when the instructor handed me the controls."

Since then, he has spent about 25 hours in the air.

When he first pulled into the Keystone Heights Airport on his birthday earlier this month, he found a Cessna 150 plane fueled up and ready to go. He got inside, went through the pre-flight checklist, and told his flight instructor, Randall Taylor, everything was clear.

As his mother watched him, she thought of all the mishaps that could happen to her oldest child.

After Andrew entered the plane with Taylor, they took the plane to the runway. Andrew then called out on the radio "Keystone Area Traffic Cessna 8536 Uniform departing runway 29 to the northwest, Keystone Traffic."

After that, he took the plane off and headed northwest. After completing two landings, Andrew landed the plane for Taylor to get off. He wasn't completely on his own, though. He had his flight instructor guiding him over the radio.

He spent about half an hour circling over the airport at 1,200 feet in the air, unable to really see the landscape below him through the clouds.

Without the instructor, "The plane felt lighter," Andrew said.

When he finally landed, his mother felt a burden being relieved.    

"I breathed a sigh of relief," she said. When the seasoned pilots hanging around the airport began complimenting Andrew's landing, his mother felt less worried.

"That really put my mind at ease, she said."

With his first solo flight under his belt, it would be easy to think passing the test for his driver's license would be easy.

"He would tell you that driving is harder than flying," said Andrew's dad, Don Geelhoed. "It is!" Andrew added.

Many boys fantasize about the day they turn 16 and get to drive. For Andrew, he fantasizes about the day he gets his pilot's license, which he hopes to have when he is 17. He still has a way to go. Common requirements for a private pilot’s license include a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, an oral and written exam and that the student has flown more than 100 nautical miles in a single flight. The student pilot must also undergo a hands-on flight exam with a certified examiner.

After that, he plans on going to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to train to be a pilot.

"I'm thinking I want to fly fighter planes," he said.

#     #     #

Email CMcKinney@