Grove City Record

Teen flies solo on 16th birthday

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CHRIS PARKER/THISWEEKNEWS
Grove City High School sophomore Sean Absten flew solo on his 16th birthday, the youngest age permitted by the Federal Aviation Administration. He hopes to obtain his full pilot's license at 17, also the youngest age allowed by the FAA.
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Most teens dream of getting their driver's license on their 16th birthday.

When Grove City High School sophomore Sean Absten turned 16 on Jan. 28, he realized his dream of flying solo in an airplane.

Federal Aviation Administration rules require a prospective pilot to be at least 16 before taking a solo flight.

"It's the first step toward earning your pilot's license," Absten said. "Now my goal is to earn my full pilot's license on my 17th birthday, which is the earliest you can do it."

He plans to go for his automobile driver's license later this month.

"I think I'll be more nervous taking my driver's test then I was flying solo in the airplane," Absten said. "I've been around planes all my life. I feel really comfortable around them."

His father is a pilot for United Airlines and has also flown for the U.S. Air Force.

"He's been taking me up in planes all my life," Absten said. "He began letting me handle the controls when I was a kid."

The family has its own plane, which is kept at Bolton Field. Absten took his maiden solo flight at Bolton.

Although central Ohio was suffering under frigid temperatures on his birthday, Absten said he felt safe to fly as long as the winds weren't too bad.

"It's actually better to fly in cold weather," he said. "Because the air is colder, it's also thicker and that makes it easier" to handle and fly a plane.

The cold temperatures also improve visibility, Absten said.

He said he enjoys the sense of freedom one feels flying in a plane.

"It's also such a great view being up so high," Absten said.

Flight instructor Eric Howlett said he was "proud and excited" to watch as Absten took his first solo flight.

"We went up a few days before his birthday and I felt then like I could have let him go up alone," he said. "The fact that he's more confident in an airplane than driving a car indicates he's a good pilot.

"He was really well-prepared," Howlett said. "It helped him to have all that time he spent flying with his dad."

It is unusual these days for someone so young to be flying solo, Howlett said.

"It used to be more common, but fewer families own their own planes anymore. It's an expensive hobby," he said. "Most of my students are older and are going for their commercial pilot's license. It's fun to work with someone so young and enthusiastic about flying."

"I think flying will always be a hobby for me," Absten said, but he also would like to pursue some sort of career in aviation, perhaps as an air traffic controller.

He said he is confident he will reach his next goal of earning his pilot's license on his 17th birthday.

"I would like to take my Mom or my sister up in the plane and fly either ahead of or behind my Dad," Absten said.

He also looks forward to more "practical" uses for a pilot's license.

"It would be so cool over spring break to fly with a few of my friends down to Florida, instead of having to drive all the way there," Absten said.

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