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Two Front Royal Teens “Solo” in Airplane

Front Royal, VA–Two Randolph-Macon Academy students achieved a monumental goal within the last few weeks of school when they each flew their first solo flight in an airplane. Thomas Abell, the son of Kittie and Rob Abell of Front Royal, VA, accomplished his first solo flight on May 29, 2012 at Front Royal-Warren County Airport. The 16-year-old is a junior at R-MA. The other soloist was 18-year-old Ryan Ochoa, the son of Susan and Edgar Ochoa of Front Royal, VA. Ochoa, a senior at the Academy, will graduate this Saturday, June 2nd.

Thomas Abell '13 flew solo in a Cessna 172 on May 29, 2012.
Thomas Abell '13 flew solo in a Cessna 172 on May 29, 2012.

To successfully accomplish their first solos and earn the solo “wings” pin awarded at Randolph-Macon Academy, Abell and Ochoa had to complete at least three take-offs and three landings alone in a Cessna 172 airplane.

Abell said he had expected the flight to take place two weeks ago, but an illness delayed him for one week, and a thunderstorm interrupted his plans the second time. However, on May 29th, he was not to be denied.

After completing three practice runs, Randolph-Macon Academy flight instructor Ryan Koch turned to Abell. “He said, ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘Pretty good,’” Abell recalled. “Then he said, ‘You feel confident?’ I said, ‘Yes sir I do.’”

That confidence displayed itself in Abell’s first landing, which was perfect. A cross-wind made the second landing more difficult, but in the end he completed all three take-offs and landings successfully.

Ochoa soloed amidst calmer air on the evening of May 30th, as the sun was dropping towards the mountains. He completed four solo landings and even flew solo over both Randolph-Macon Academy and his house in Front Royal.

Ryan Ochoa '12 accomplished his first solo flight just a few days before graduating from high school.
Ryan Ochoa '12 accomplished his first solo flight just a few days before graduating from high school.

“Ryan started flying at R-MA in summer school of 2009. He has been through airplane changes and long periods of not flying. This evening his perseverance paid off,” said Koch.

Ochoa has kept busy as a drummer for the R-MA band and this year was the band squadron commander. He was also a member of the Honor Council, the National Honor Society, the National English Honor Society, the National German Honor Society, and the High Flight program at the Academy. Ochoa also played varsity soccer and lacrosse.

Abell just began flying this past fall. Typically it takes student pilots about 20 practice hours before they are ready to fly solo for the first time. Fitting this into his schedule amidst football and baseball and playing tuba for the R-MA band hasn’t been easy, but it was certainly worth it to Abell, who was the top ground school student this year in addition to accomplishing his solo.

“Just the feel of being up above everything, being up 3,000 feet above ground, it’s pretty amazing,” he said. “There’s just something about planes. I’ve always wished I could fly.”

Abell hopes to continue flying over the summer to move closer towards his next goal: earning his private pilot certification. Ochoa will attend the Naval Academy Prep School.

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 unique flight program. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, VA.