Here’s a fun way to spend your next birthday: Get up early, drive three hours, and spend the rest of the day until past dark taking tests.
That’s what high school student Isaac Wilson from Ramah, New Mexico, did on his last birthday, Nov. 24—but when it was over, he had something really big to celebrate.
In that long day, Wilson marked his seventeenth birthday by earning his private pilot certificate (rotorcraft) and an instrument rating on his very first day of eligibility.
“It was a very long day. It was a 12-hour checkride,” Wilson said in a telephone interview, recalling the flight test that he began in a Robinson R22 piston helicopter to demonstrate his private pilot maneuvers, and then completed in an IFR-equipped Robinson R44.
But he didn’t stop there. Quickly Wilson was back to the R22 to start training for his commercial pilot certificate, which he also hopes to earn on day one of eligibility on his next birthday.
Earning a flight instructor certificate and an instrument flight instructor ticket by the time he graduates from high school the following spring is on his radar and his probable launching pad for a career as a working helicopter pilot.
Wilson has known since early childhood that flying helicopters was a passion and a career goal. The idea of going for the combined private pilot and instrument rating training program at Vertical Limit Aviation at Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Double Eagle II Airport got a boost when Wilson was awarded a $12,000 Noe-Singer Flight Training Scholarship through the AOPA Foundation.
Larry Noe, an instrument-rated commercial pilot who started flying in 2004, has offered the award through the AOPA Flight Training Scholarship Program to help a recipient set out on an aviation-related career track, or fly recreationally—as does Noe, who is a member of the AOPA President’s Council.
“Thanks to the AOPA scholarship, I was able to do the combined checkride. Without it I would not have been able,” Wilson said.
As if working toward a combined checkride didn’t pose enough challenge, Wilson also faced a logistical hurdle that would have tested the resolve of any student: It’s a 271-mile round trip by auto between Ramah, south of Gallup in western New Mexico, and the airport located just northwest of Albuquerque’s Class C airspace.
Those commutes continue as he works toward his commercial pilot certificate—a training project that is broadening his experience to such maneuvers as landing on the airport ramp as well as at some challenging off-airport locations including dried-up riverbeds, and a few mesas in the high desert near the airport, which sits at an elevation of 5,837 feet msl.
Many new pilots have that one special aircraft that they have always wanted to fly. For Wilson, it is the McDonnell Douglas MD500.
He had a chance to give a visiting MD500 a close-up inspection last year when it paid a call at the Double Eagle II Airport. He pronounced it “way cool.”
“Everyone says it is the Ferrari of helicopters,” Wilson explained. “It has a whole lot of power, is very maneuverable, and I just like the way it looks.”
Although it is unusual for general aviation pilots in training to bite off such an ambitious project as combining two certification goals into one course and checkride, having scholarship funding in hand, and ample time to get ready, made the strategy work for him.
“I had plenty of time to study for both. I had an entire year to prepare. That was a big thing for me, getting experience flying IFR and VFR,” he said.
If a combined training project sounds like the way to advance your own aviation goals, Wilson advises you to give it serious consideration. (Combined practical tests for a private pilot certificate and instrument rating are discussed in the applicable practical test standards publications.)
“If you set your mind to it, you can definitely do it,” he said.