While his classmates were studying physics in the classroom last week, 16-year-old John Patchell was putting Bernoulli's principle and Newton's laws of gravity to work as he soloed for the first time in a Cessna 172SP at Minden-Tahoe Airport.
"It was great," Patchell said. "I was not too nervous on the take-off. The landing was kind of hard."
Patchell piloted the plane for about 20 minutes early Sept. 7.
"I like the thrill and being able to do what a lot of people can't do," he said.
The Douglas High School junior began taking flying lessons in June at Flying Start Aero.
His instructors, John Brown and Bill Schroeder, saw his skill and dedication.
Schroeder said it takes 50-60 hours to obtain a private pilot's license; a student may solo after 15-20 hours of instruction, but is not allowed to take passengers until he earns his license.
"Flying solo is a real transition," Schroeder said. "It's the first time a student is allowed to fly the aircraft by themselves. As a flight instructor, we do keep tabs on the student and make sure they are capable of what they think they are capable of."
Before his first lesson, Patchell completed ground school at Western Nevada College where he learned the basics. He hopes to join the U.S. Marine Corps as a pilot after he finishes college, with a goal toward becoming a commercial airlines pilot.
Patchell said he feels safer piloting an airplane than driving a car.
"There are a lot less airplanes in the sky than cars on the road," he said. "And pilots communicate with each other. With cars, you never know what's going to happen."
The lessons are expensive, but Patchell worked out a payment plan with Flying Start Aero.
"I call it an investment," Schroeder said. "You'll have your pilot's license for the rest of your life."
Schroeder said while some might see Patchell's youth as a risk, the veteran master flight instructor believes it is an asset.
"It is a young age," he said. "However, what you see is the ability of the younger person to be a quick learner. They understand after several hours in an aircraft, there is some responsibility. You do not just get in an airplane and fly. Not all 16-year-olds have it. It's up to the flight instructor to make that determination. We really watch them."