It might have taken Elias Lisle of Hingham, MA, a bit of time to convince his parents to let him fly, but once he did, there was no going back. Lisle began flying in November 2013, shortly after starting as a sophomore at Randolph-Macon Academy, a boarding school in Virginia that offers an optional flight program for students. A year later, he flew his first solo flight. This year, as a senior, he earned his private pilot certification at Front Royal-Warren County Airport on May 25, 2016, just three days before graduating from Randolph-Macon.
And he doesn’t even have his driver’s license yet.
Both the preparation for the private pilot certification and the actual testing itself are intense. Student pilots spend hours studying for the written exam and the two-hour oral exam. They complete cross-country flights and log dozens of hours of flight time to prepare for their check ride. The stress levels are high, as Lisle can attest.
“The check ride flight normally takes 1.3 to 1.6 hours, and mine took 2.3 because I had to repeat some maneuvers,” he said. “I didn’t think I got it, but after the last maneuver he said, ‘Okay, we’re done. You got it.'” Lisle said that his Randolph-Macon Academy flight instructor, Laura Abraham, later explained to him that attaining a 100% on the oral exam or check ride is close to impossible, in part because the students are so nervous; the FAA examiner, Abraham told him, takes that into account.
“Elias is a hard-working and dedicated young man,” Abraham said. “He was determined to finish his training before he graduated. He flew in the evenings and on weekends to accomplish his goal. I am very proud of him.”
Earning this certification was an amazing accomplishment for a student who not only had to talk his parents into letting him fly, but has maintained a GPA over 4.0, participated on the varsity swimming team, and been an active member of the National Honor Society and the National German Honor Society. Lisle also participated in the Academy’s High Flight program with the goal of getting into a service academy—and succeeded. He will be attending the U.S. Air Force Academy this fall.
“I was not expecting [the appointment to the Air Force Academy],” he said. “I woke up one Saturday morning and had ten missed calls from my parents. I thought somebody died or something. I called them back and they told me that they had a message from USAFA to check the status of my application. I had gotten an appointment.”
It was a great surprise, he said, because his record prior to coming to R-MA had not been stellar. His GPA was below a 3.0; the large classes of up to 50 students at his prior school did not work for him. Once he arrived at R-MA, however, his GPA improved to 4.0.
Now, with a private pilot certification and an appointment to the Air Force Academy, Lisle is well on his way to achieving his goal of having a career in aviation.
“I just like that it’s a hobby to enjoy, but it’s academic as well,” he said of his love for flying. “There’s a lot of planning involved. It’s very freeing. You can go to so many places.”
Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational boarding school for students in grades 6 through 12. Students in grades 9-12 participate in R-MA’s 91st Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), and have the opportunity to fly in a unique flight program. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, VA.