Congratulations to 16-year-old Danielle Olson, EAA 784715, who soloed Memorial Day weekend after nearly lifelong preparation for the moment.
Danielle’s aviation journey began with a flight at just 5 weeks old, and she got her first taste of homebuilding at 3-1/2 years of age with the family’s RV-10 project. Though Danielle cannot remember much of that first build, her father, Tim, EAA 587342, said she was able to participate in small ways such as pulling wires into the tail cone — a hard place for a full-grown person to access.
After two years of working on the RV-10 together, the family put finishing touches on the airplane and set out to fly it across the country, starting with a trip to the SUN ’n FUN International Fly-In and Expo in Florida and checking off 35 states within only a few years.
It was on one of these early trips that Danielle decided she wanted to become a pilot.
“I was around 5 or 6 and my family was taking a short trip in the RV-10 to my grandparents’ house in Red Cedar Lake,” she said. “It was one of the first trips I was allowed to sit up front so my dad let me fly. I couldn’t see over the panel so he told me to just fly through the green boxes. I did just that and it struck me that I could one day become a pilot too.”
By 2013 the family had visited 49 states with N104CD and had symbolically taken the airplane’s keys with them on a trip to Hawaii. Danielle was only four years away from being able to solo and her dad wanted her to be able to fly in an airplane she built herself, adding another special layer of accomplishment.
He didn’t think the RV-10 was ideal for training, so after learning more about the RV-14 at AirVenture 2013, the family set out on its second build. After the airplane was completed in June 2016 and its first 40 hours were flown off, Danielle was Tim’s first passenger in N14YT. On that very flight Danielle took the controls and began getting a feel for the airplane she would one day solo.
Throughout the rest of 2016, she logged nearly 25 hours with her dad, but none could be counted as instruction since he wasn’t a CFI. Tim was thinking about where he could find Danielle a local instructor with RV experience when a friend suggested that Tim become a CFI himself.
So, as Danielle studied for and passed her written in December 2016, Tim set out studying for his commercial rating and, shortly after, his CFI. He received his certification in January 2017 and his daughter became his first student.
“As soon as I got home, Danielle and I started logging time together,” Tim said. “I started her from square one, going through every skill and maneuver. Wanting her to be completely comfortable in the airplane, no matter the situation, we even did spins together and she flew along for some aerobatic flights. Her comfort level was such that she really could have done just fine without much more instruction, but we hammered at everything, even some cross-country flights, to get her 80 percent of the way before she even soloed.”
The day of her solo, May 29, had winds forecast at 20 to 25 knots for later in the day, so Danielle and her family headed to the airport at 6 a.m. when the winds were a more manageable 13 to 17 knots. She said she had spent all night nervous and going through what-if scenarios in her head, but that after one takeoff and landing with her dad, she knew she was ready.
“He got out of the plane and I began taxiing,” Danielle said. “My nerves started to dissipate as I focused on the task at hand. Right after taking off, I was so relieved and happy. It was an incredible feeling. I realized that flying by myself wasn’t much different and I did everything I would normally do. A small patch of sun was shining through the clouds and I remember thinking, ‘This is amazing and I will be okay.’”
Congratulations again, Danielle, on this exciting and unique accomplishment, and best wishes as you continue putting in your own hard work to bring your aviation dreams to life!
Have you reached a milestone recently? Passed a checkride, given your first or hundredth Young Eagle flight, flown your homebuilt for the first time? Tell us about it at email@example.com.