Most students anxiously await their 16th birthday, eagerly anticipating that rite of passage into almost-adulthood: obtaining their driver’s license. Not Jacob Gehly of Front Royal. He set his goal a little higher. So on February 6, 2018, five days after his 16th birthday, Jacob wasn’t in an automobile waiting to pass his driving test. He was at Front Royal/Warren County Airport, in an airplane, about to take off into the sky, alone in the cockpit for the first time.
Jacob, a sophomore at Randolph-Macon Academy, doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t want to fly. “Ever since I knew what an airplane was,I wanted to fly,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest reasons I came to Randolph-Macon Academy.” Within the first month of his freshman year, he had taken his first flight, and that simply confirmed it. “I loved it,” he said. “I was addicted right away.”
By the time he soloed, Jacob had accumulated 32 hours of flight time. That much experience made the first solo fairly easy. “I had butterflies in my stomach just before I went up,” he admitted. “But I know what I would be going through. I had done mock-solos with [Flight Instructor] Mr. [Ryan] Koch, where he didn’t say anything.” The butterflies went away quickly, to be replaced by a sense of awe. “Looking over to see no one in the co-pilot’s seat, I got a sense of satisfaction, an amazing feeling of ‘Whoa, I can do this myself. I’m really a pilot now.’”
Like many pilots, Jacob finds a sense of freedom when he’s in the air. “There’s nothing holding you to the ground,” he said. “That dream man had to be up there, in the air–it’s a reality.” He finds a somewhat spiritual aspect to the experience as well. “Looking at the beauty God has given us from that perspective gives you a new appreciation for it, and a sense of how blessed you are,” he explained. “It’s a humbling feeling.”
When he’s not soaring above his hometown of Front Royal, Jacob might be found leading the R-MA band in a parade practice, as he is the sophomore drum major–a job at which he is so good, he won first place in the Drum Major Competition at the Military School Band and Choir Festival at the end of February. While maintaining a GPA over 4.0, he also serves as captain of the cross country team, and participates in swimming and track and field. He plans to be a corporate pilot.