By Ben Van Handel, EAA 1145612
My dream of becoming a pilot became a reality on August 10, 2017, when I had my first flight lesson for my private pilot certificate. I enjoyed every minute of training leading up to the first big milestone — the first solo — and found myself constantly thinking of what I was learning. Soon, landings began to find their groove and my instructor had the confidence in me to let me land the Cessna 172 all by myself.
The day came for me to solo and the weather could not have been more perfect. On September 9, 2017, I flew solo in the 172 Skyhawk and I still remember the wave and rush of emotions I felt. The sense of freedom and that it was just me, the airplane, and the world below. I also remember the excitement and joy, the progress I was making, and that I was actually flying the airplane alone! I was the guy flying the plane, just like the planes I had watched, hoping to be the pilot in command someday as I watched them fly over. I was that guy now!
That day was also special because some Young Eagle flights were taking place at the airport. My Young Eagles flight was what got my feet off the ground and fueled my obsession with aviation and flying. It was a remarkable experience flying solo, especially being in the pattern with Young Eagles, and knowing this program really gives you your wings. It was a humbling experience to then share with the Young Eagles after I landed that I was a Young Eagle, and that they, too, could continue to develop their wings and pursue their certificate. Every time I fly I find myself remembering those moments and loving every minute being in the air. I often find myself daydreaming about the next time I get to go and fly again.
I am currently at 43.3 hours and finishing up some practice checkrides to prepare for the big day. Some of my favorite cross-country trips I have been able to do were a night flight to Madison, flying up to Door County, and flying to Green Bay and over Lambeau Field, as well as St. Norbert College, where I am currently attending school. I also really enjoyed my final solo cross-country, where I chose to land at Appleton International Airport for one of the legs. It was quite the experience to land at the only airport I have flown out of commercially in Wisconsin, and the airport I have driven by so many times. I had a similar feeling flying into Oshkosh; I imagined I was coming into AirVenture. It was nice to fly into the backyard of EAA, the place that has lifted and grown The Spirit of Aviation within me.
I look forward to more pleasant skies and fair tailwinds and can’t thank Phillips 66 Aviation and the EAA Young Eagles program enough for making my dream a reality.