El Dorado Hills resident Austin Bowa had an especially sweet Valentine’s Day. Not only did he turn 17 but he also earned his private pilot’s license to fly a helicopter.
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 watching on the ground.
This past Thursday, he was back again. This time for an oral interview followed by a test flight with a 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 exam 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. Bowa passed with flying colors and celebrates 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; only 40 hours are needed to qualify for the practical test.
With his license, Bowa can fly any helicopter weighing less than 12,000 pounds and carry up to three passengers. However, since he doesn’t have a commercial license, he can’t charge his passengers.
Bowa plans 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.”