By Lynn Krogh
The government doesn’t grant many privileges to youth who are 14. However, with proper training, the Federal Aviation Administration will allow someone that age to fly solo in a glider aircraft. Parker Henderson, of Laguna Niguel, Calif., did just that on Oct. 10, 2005.
Shortly after his 13th birthday, Henderson began flying lessons at Sailplane Enterprises in Hemet, Calif. Hemet-Ryan Airport happens to be the same airport where aviation legend Chuck Yeager learned to fly during World War II. For many months, young Henderson completed his ground school assignments and learned flight maneuvers from his certified flight instructor, Larry Howell. Although he was anxious to solo, he had to wait until he was old enough.
The aircraft he flew was a Schweizer 2-33 sailplane, which has a 51-foot wingspan and weighs just over 1,000 pounds. Since Henderson weighs in at only 130 pounds himself, lead weights had to be positioned in the nose of the glider for proper balance.
The training course for gliders emphasizes aerodynamics and the fundamentals of flight, including how to use air currents. A glider pilot doesn’t have an engine or a radio on which to rely. In addition, Henderson was trained on emergency procedures, including aerobatic flight and spin training.
The hardest part, according to the teenager, was the ground school, and then just waiting for his 14th birthday to arrive. He gave up many weekends of fishing or surfing with his friends, but felt it was all worth it.
“This was a goal of mine for a long time,” Henderson said.
Some inside motivation kept the high school freshman on track. Although his mother is a reluctant flyer, both his dad and 19-year-old brother are private pilots who fly occasionally. Henderson was determined to fly solo at a younger age than his brother. His interest in flying was sparked when he was able to take the controls of an airplane on an EAA Young Eagles flight when he was 8 years old.
So how did it feel being all by himself in the air?
“I just did everything the way my instructor taught me,” Henderson said. “I looked behind me a couple of times and saw that my instructor wasn’t there. It was kind of weird. I was used to the plane feeling much lighter.”
Now that Parker Henderson is the youngest certified pilot in the United States, the obvious question is what he’ll do now. In addition to exercising his new-found freedom soaring in the skies, he says he wants to continue taking flying lessons and hopes to solo a powered aircraft on his 16th birthday. With such an early start in aviation, only the sky is the limit for him now.