Front Royal Students at Randolph-Macon Academy Fly Solo

Two Randolph-Macon Academy students from Front Royal successfully soloed an airplane for the first time in February.

The first to solo was senior Gordon Anderson, who completed his solo on February 9, 2015, just before inclement weather entered the area. Anderson began flying in the four-week R-MA Summer Flight Camp in 2013, just before his junior year. “We went a lot of different places, on a lot of long flights, to a lot of different airports,” Anderson said of the summer camp.

It might seem as if Anderson was flying for a long time before he soloed, but in actuality, what he accomplished was pretty impressive. “Gordon was able to retain the skills from that summer session and only flew three times in 2014,” commented Flight Instructor Ryan Koch. “On January 25th we picked up where he left off and flew a handful of times. It was like he was riding a bike. He just picked it back up!”

That innate ability will serve him well in the future, as the 18-year-old hopes to have a career in aviation, perhaps as a commercial pilot.

“I feel like there’s a sense of freedom, and it’s such a calming thing sometimes,” he said as to why he enjoys flying. “When you go on a really calm day, you can’t even tell you’re off the ground. Other days feel like there are potholes as big as the vehicle you’re in.”

For a first-time solo event, students typically complete three successful take-offs and landings at Front Royal-Warren County Airport, and it usually happens on runway 28. In Anderson’s case, he was trying to accomplish it before the bad weather hit, and the winds favored runway 10. But he didn’t allow the different runway or the weather to impact his focus. “I didn’t start feeling nervous until I started my approach [to land],” he said. “Then I watched everything like a hawk, making sure I was on the right path, making sure I was not too slow.” Once the first landing was accomplished, he said, “The next two were a lot of fun!”

The second soloist, R-MA junior William Long III, accomplished his solo flight on February 25, 2015. While Anderson got his solo in before the bad weather, Long found his solo delayed several times due to poor weather. Clear blue skies and light winds prevailed on the 25th, however.

“It was a really calm day,” Long observed. “I wasn't really nervous. It wasn't really eventful.”

“Uneventful” was also the word he used to describe the solo flight to Koch. “Exactly the kind of word a mom or flight instructor likes to hear!” joked Koch.

Long has had a love for planes since he was a young child. He chose to attend Randolph-Macon Academy so that he could participate in the flight program there. His goal now includes going on to earn his private pilot certification.


Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational day and 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 option to participate in a flight program. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, VA.