On the afternoon of Friday, December 1, 2017, Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA) junior Jon Yue did something special: he flew his first solo flight in a Cessna 172. And yet the 17-year-old Kensington, MD, native does not even have his driver’s license.
The accomplishment was the culmination of a lifelong passion for flying. Jon can recall being in kindergarten, with all the students being asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. Without hesitating he said, “I want to be a pilot.” That childhood fantasy solidified into a goal when he was in third grade and he had the opportunity to take a ride in a small aircraft. He fell in love with flying and knew there was nothing else he would rather be doing.
“There’s a feeling of freedom,” he explained. “When I get up there, everything I was worried about on the ground doesn’t matter anymore. At least for that time, you’re above everything.”
As soon as he was old enough, Jon joined Civil Air Patrol; as part of that program, he took gliding lessons and flew his first solo in a glider in August 2015. Moving up to powered flight was the next logical step. He began that in Maryland, then continued when he enrolled in R-MA this past fall. The Academy has its own flight program, with two on-staff flight instructors and two Cessna 172 aircraft.
Jon progressed rapidly in the program and R-MA Director of Flight Training and Operations Ryan Koch knew he was ready to solo on December 1st. “He doesn’t make it out to be a big deal,” Jon said after his solo. “Before you actually get to do it, you do a final review. Then he gets out and tells you, ‘Good luck.”
Jon admitted that he had to take a couple of deep breaths to steady himself, but it might have been due to excitement more than nerves. In spite of a bit of turbulence, his first solo flight went smoothly. “After I took off, it was just like, ‘Wow. It’s amazing,’” he recalled.
Koch has been impressed with Jon’s dedication to flying. “He came to the school this year having soloed a glider and completing some airplane lessons,” he said. “Jon has flown flight simulators since the age of three. He has a passion for aviation and is a true pleasure to fly with.”
The respect is mutual. Jon stated during his interview, “Mr. Koch is the most amazing flight instructor I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot. Some are waiting to get into commercial flying and they’re just logging hours. This is his true passion. He is so calm, and very knowledgeable. He is the best flight instructor. He really wants you to succeed.”
Jon plans to continue flying this year and hopes to earn his private pilot certification by the end of this year, and his instrument rating by the end of his high school career. He then plans to attend an aviation college and pursue a career as a pilot, because he can’t imagine any career but flying. “It’s my life,” he said simply.