Kevin Gustafson was more impressed with the outpouring of media attention over his first-ever solo flight Wednesday morning than he was with his accomplishment.
After years of training and study, the Los Alamitos High School sophomore was prepared to take command of three different airplanes when the sun rose on his 16th birthday. He had planned to earn his student pilot license on the first day it was available to him, and everything seemed to be cooperating. The weather was good; the sky was clear, and the Seal Beach teen was pumped.
What he hadn't anticipated was a full court press by television crews and reporters waiting for him on the Long Beach Airport tarmac.
"I went out to the plane at 8:30 to make sure everything was OK, and when I went back there were all these vans with satellites on top," said Gustafson, who was profiled in The Times on Tuesday.
After taking two crews for a spin in a four-seat Cessna 172, accompanied by his flight instructor, Gustafson said he was eager to climb into the cockpit alone and prove his abilities.
"I was ready. It was, like, come on, let's go," he said.
In five minutes he had taken off, circled above Orange County and landed. He had earned his wings.
Following a long-standing pilot's tradition, his teacher, Lynn Krogh, cut off the teen's shirttails following the landing. In a new family tradition, Gustafson's father dumped a bucket of cold water over his youngest son's head.
Gustafson went on to solo in a Cessna 152 two-seat plane and in a motorless glider, flying over Long Beach, Pomona and Hemet.
"You know, [there's] something about flying three airplanes in three cities," he said.
In earning his student pilot license, Gustafson gains the responsibilities and benefits of a private pilot except one--he can't carry passengers until he solos again at 17.
And with his 16th birthday two days past, Gustafson is making plans for next year. "On my 17th, I'll solo again, and probably take up the folks too," he said.
As for earning his driver's license, he still doesn't know when he'll fit getting a learner's permit into his schedule.