Austin Bowa, 18, from El Dorado Hills, left, pilots a Robinson R22 helicopter along with designated pilot examiner Oren Breedlove from Sacramento at the Auburn Airport. Village Life Photo by Pat Dollins

Feature Photos

Bowa proves himself a “good stick”

By From page A1 | February 26, 2014

Valentine’s Day means flowers and chocolates for most, but for Austin Bowa it was a much sweeter treat as he earned his license as a commercial helicopter pilot while also celebrating his 18th birthday.

A very self-possessed and modest young man, Bowa has been single-mindedly pursuing his dream of piloting a helicopter since he was 7 years old.

Still in his early teens, he took his first training flight with John Crawford, an instructor with Sierra Air Helicopters at the Auburn Airport. It’s Crawford who has provided most of Bowa’s training.

“He’s a natural,” said Crawford, “and the best student. Smart, steady, does what he’s supposed to do. Does his homework, stays calm. He’s a good pilot. He started when he was 15 1/2 and has been going at it steadily. He’s right where he needs to be.”

Getting his license meant jumping three hurdles in addition to turning 18 and having 150 hours of flight time under his belt.

First was a written exam on Feb. 12; Austin passed with a score of 98 percent. The following Friday he had an oral exam which lasted on-and-a-half hours.

“They can last three to five hours,” said Crawford, “but Austin knows his stuff so well they ran out of questions to ask him. I talked to the examiner and he said it was perfect and wished he had it on video. He even went outside the box and knew everything.”

The last part of the licensing exam was a check ride that can last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. The ride included cross-country, being diverted in another direction, hovering, auto-rotations, engine failure simulation, maneuvers, a running landing and an off-airport landing.
As they climbed out of the tiny helicopter at the conclusion of the test flight, Oren Breedlove, Bowa’s designated pilot examiner, shook his hand and congratulated him.
“Overall he did a great job,” said Breedlove. “He performed at a commercial level. He’s a good stick and very professional.”
Watching off to the side were his parents Shelly and Jeff Bowa of El Dorado Hills and his grandfather Roger Palmer and uncle Lance Palmer, both of whom live in Placerville.
“So he finally has a job and can get paid to fly,” joked his mother who admitted to being anxious during the process.

Jeff said he was also jittery, “But he’s been well-trained and I’m confident in him,” he said. “Nothing stops him when he sets his mind to it. He’s driven. That’s for sure.”

Their nerves aside, nothing seems to faze Austin considering his accomplishments so far.
With a 4.2 grade point average at Ponderosa High School, he will graduate this year and then he’s off to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

His parents said he is also taking a ROP law enforcement class and has applied for a ROTC scholarship with the Army. Later he plans to enlist as an officer in the army and then go directly to flight school.

“I’m really proud of Austin,” said Shelly. “He’s an inspiration to younger kids. It sends a message to kids thinking of flying helicopters that they can do it. I hope other parents will support their children’s dreams.”

After the test flight, Austin agreed, saying “It feels good to get it over with. Now I can get paid to fly.”

Shyly laughing off the one minor mishap during the test, he said the door of the helicopter came open three times during the flight.

“But it was no big deal,” he said. “I was a little nervous at the beginning, but calmed down as it went along.”

Austin said his next step is pursuing certificates as a certified flight instructor and certified instrument instructor. He will start training in those areas in the next few weeks. All those hours are needed because, according to Jeff, Austin will need about 1,000 hours of flight time before he can get a job as a helicopter pilot.

Austin said something he is looking forward to later this year is a trip to Alaska with one of the thrills being landing a helicopter on a glacier.

Dawn Hodson


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