Olivia Fowler, right, finishes her test ride to get her pilot’s license on her 17th birthday Friday as a present from her family. Next to her in the cockpit is Mary Build, an examiner from the Federal Aviation Administration.
By Leslie Bridgers
PORTLAND - When it comes to flying, Olivia Fowler doesn't waste any time.
A year ago, she made her first solo flight a couple of days after turning 16 -- the minimum legal age for flying alone.
She became eligible to get her pilot's license on Friday -- her 17th birthday -- and had it in her hand by noon.
"She's a very motivated girl," said Roger Plant, who has spent about 70 hours in the air with Olivia over the past year and a half, teaching her to fly.
As of December, about 3,500 licensed pilots in the country were younger than 20, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Olivia, who will be a senior at Freeport High School this fall, has been single-minded in her pursuit of a pilot's license for the past three years.
She got her first taste of flying while at a space camp in Huntsville, Ala., when she was in sixth grade. She got a flying lesson during her time in Huntsville.
Two years later, her interest hadn't let up. For her 14th birthday, her parents got her ground school lessons from Maine Aviation Corp. at the Portland International Jetport.
She learned to read aviation maps and weather charts. She studied airport regulations and the rules of flying.
A year later, she passed a written exam and was ready to get into the air.
Her father, David Fowler, who had to drive her to ground school, decided to join the class and also got his pilot's license. He's now a second lieutenant and the public relations officer for the Maine Wing Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the Air Force.
The Fowlers said that, all told, Olivia's training and testing has cost about $4,000.
Her mother, Mary Fowler, figures her 8-year-old son, Noah, will follow suit.
Though Mary has no interest in becoming a pilot, she's glad her family members do. "I can go anywhere I want," she said.
Mary and David Fowler still have to drive their daughter around -- they drove her to and from the jetport Friday morning for her exam.
Olivia has yet to get her driver's license.
She admitted that she put off the driving test because she liked the idea of getting her pilot's license first. "It's bragging rights," she said.
Olivia, a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol, donned fatigues as she got into the Cessna 172 for her check ride Friday, following an hour-long oral test.
She took off as if headed to Burlington, Vt., according to a flight plan she drew up as part of the exam.
The FAA flight examiner, Mary Build, had Olivia divert to the Sebago Lake area, where she simulated an engine failure and approached a golf course as if to land.
Build had Olivia circle a small island in the lake and make S-turns above power lines.
They returned to the jetport, where Olivia had to approach the runway according to various scenarios -- as if the runway were short or grassy.
She finally landed, in another simulated engine failure. As Olivia taxied the plane past her parents, who waited on the tarmac with cameras, Build congratulated her for passing.
"I was excited, but I still had to (maneuver) the plane," she said.
Olivia, who also is a competitive horse rider and a national carriage driving champion, doesn't plan to be a professional pilot. She wants to study astrophysics in college, preferably at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.
She explained how the two interests dovetail.
"Airplanes are the closest I can get to space," she said.
As for her flying, she can still work to get certified to fly commercial planes or become an instructor. But those ratings won't come close to her accomplishment Friday.
"I made my goal to get my pilot's license on my 17th birthday, and here I am," she said. "I've got to come up with something else now."
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:
Olivia Fowler wants to study astrophysics in college. “Airplanes are the closest I can get to space,” she says.