Valentine’s Day was a special treat for El Dorado Hills resident Austin Bowa who not only turned 17 but also earned his private pilot’s license to fly a helicopter.
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His mother Shelly said she believes her son is now the youngest licensed helicopter pilot in the United States.
A year ago, Bowa took his first solo flight in a small two-seater helicopter at Auburn Airport with family, friends and the media looking on.
This past Thursday, he was back again. This time for an oral interview followed by a test flight with a DPE (designated pilot examiner).
The Ponderosa High School junior said the oral exam took about an hour with a lot of questions about weather, cross-country flying and FAA regulations. Luckily his instructor, John Crawford of Sierra Air Helicopters, sat in during the oral to help him relax.
Once he passed his orals, the next step was the flight test. But in a replay of what happened last year, Crawford forgot the keys to the helicopter and had to rush back to the office to retrieve them.
With keys in hand, Bowa and the DPE took off for the flight test. Bowa said part of it included diverting to another airport, maneuvering and then returning to Auburn. The result was Bowa passing with flying colors and then celebrating, along with his mother and grandfather, at a local barbecue restaurant. A family celebration was scheduled over the weekend with even more barbecue.
The youngster said he now has 95 hours of flight time in a helicopter even though only 40 are needed to qualify for the practical test.
With his license, he can fly any helicopter under 12,000 pounds and carry up to 3 passengers. However, since he doesn’t have a commercial license, he can’t charge his passengers.
Bowa’s next step will be to start instrument training, which will last 10 weeks. Then he will work toward becoming a commercial and certified flight instructor, which he won’t be able to test for until he turns 18. It’s another Valentine’s Day celebration to look forward to.
The new helicopter pilot will graduate from high school next year and hopes to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. While there he said he might take some fixed-wing training since his helicopter pilot license doesn’t qualify him to fly a plane. Then he might go into the U.S. Coast Guard or law enforcement.
In the meantime, the young man is excited to be able to get past all the studying and to get back to what he loves — flying.
“I’ve been studying two hours every night for the last month to pass the written part of the test,” he said. “Flying is definitely the main thing.”
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.