To the untrained eye, the options looked bleak. At the right were steep mountains sprinkled with cell phone towers and electrical lines. To the left a creeping marine layer blanketed the beaches. And even from the vantage of 4,500 feet, the landing strip was nowhere in sight.
“The hardest part about flying — finding the airport,” the pilot said, prompting one of his two passengers to tightly grip her seat.
But with aplomb that would have made
proud, 16-year-old Nick Meyer adjusted the altitude of the Piper Warrior — imagine a Volkswagen Beetle with wings — radioed the tower and touched down at the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport as scheduled.
“Every flight is a different flight,” the Burbank High School junior said. “It is never the same thing.”
Nick became hooked on flying five years ago when his then-middle school teacher Stacie Vournas — herself a licensed pilot — took him on a birthday flight. Soon after, he began tuning into traffic control tower frequencies via the Internet. He invested in a flight simulator software program for his computer.
And at 13, he informed his parents he wanted to enroll in pilot’s ground school, the first in a series of requirements for would-be pilots.
“They wouldn’t let him into pilot’s ground school because he was a kid so they made me go with him,” his father, Rick Meyer, recalled. “He was the only kid in a whole room full of adults. He fit right in. We knew right off the bat that he was going to do great with flying.”
After passing the
airman knowledge test, Nick began formal lessons last year at Continental Training at the Van Nuys Airport.
It has since become part of his weekly routine. He flies regularly out of Van Nuys Airport, and continues to practice with the simulator. Nick currently serves as the president of Aviation Explorers, a club for young pilots based out of Whiteman Airport in Pacoima.
Nick said his passion has allowed him to explore corners of Southern California he had never seen before — trips to Catalina Island and Desert Center, accessed, of course, by plane.
On June 14 — his 16th birthday — he made his
around Van Nuys Airport.
“He was very ready to solo long before his birthday,” said flight instructor Jim Griffiths. “But because of the regulations…it was just a matter of waiting until his birthday came. He flew me around the pattern a couple of times and then I said, ‘You are good,’ and I hopped out.”
But the flight caused a bit of angst for some.
“His mom cried, and all the other moms that were here cried when he was up there flying by himself,” Rick Meyer said.
Nick has already mastered aviation jargon and is contemplating a career as an air traffic controller.
“You listen and you pick it up,” he said.
He hopes to earn his license a year from now when he turns 17.