Sunday, May 26, 2024

14-year-old completes first solo glider flight | Glider Club works to instill aviation passion in teens


Most teens dream of the day when they finally earn their license and relish in that freedom of being able to drive anywhere they want — within reason of course.

But one teen has managed to learn a new skill that would allow him to experience the ultimate sense of freedom from a new — and higher — perspective.

Eight hundred feet higher to be exact.

Since before he can remember, 14-year-old Andrew Ingersoll has had a passion for flying. Following in the footsteps of his father, Jacob, who works as a pilot at American Airlines and is a former Navy F-18 fighter pilot, Andrew first developed an interest in glider planes about two years ago.

Dick Keyt, president of the Brazos River Gliding Club, knew Jacob from the Experimental Aircraft Association and enlisted the help of Andrew, along with several other local teens, for assistance in restoring an old glider that had been donated to Keyt.

“There's a guy who was active in our group who was one of the last people to fly (the glider) before the wind picked it up and flipped it over,” Keyt said. “It's the third time it's been rebuilt from an accident. He flew it like 25 or 30 years ago, and he's been very supportive of our group. He likes to see the glider back flying and us helping out kids and he's very, very into the whole thing.”

For a year and a half, Andrew and a handful of other local teens worked on the glider every Saturday, hoping to restore it for a chance to fly in it someday.

"I got to hang out with other people my age, and I was just thinking about, ‘What's going to happen when we finish the glider and what are we going to be able to do with it?’ — that felt really good,” Andrew said. “I wanted to do it every Saturday, so that's why I kept coming back and helping rebuild it.”

Unfortunately, after a year of working on the glider, Andrew and his family moved from Pecan Plantation to Alabama last July — but that did not stop Andrew from continuing the project.

“His family moved while we were finishing the glider and he still is so attached to it that he comes back here to fly it,” Keyt said.

The glider was finally restored early this spring, and is 25 feet long, has a 43-foot wingspan, has a wing area of 210 square feet and weighs 830 pounds.

“When you have an airplane, you take its total weight divided by the total wing area and that tells you how many pounds each square foot is supporting, and we just came up with 3.95 pounds per square foot. That's extremely light,” Keyt said. “When you think of like a four-seat airplane that you're gonna go flying with, it might be like 10 pounds, so it’s a low number."

Andrew recently came back to visit Hood County on a five-day trip, choosing to stay in Texas on his 14th birthday on July 18, so he could perform his first solo flight, as 14 is the youngest age that an individual can fly a glider by themselves.

“I was definitely very nervous,” Andrew said in regards to his first solo flight. “On the flight before my solo, we had a rope break, so we had to repair that, so having that extra time to wait just gave me more time to get more and more nervous. As we were repairing that rope break, the wind was picking up too, so we had to improvise and land at a diagonal so that I could be within my limits. Knowing that there was a possibility that we couldn't do it was very nerve-wracking too, but when we thought about it, we figured out a way to make it happen and we did it.”

The gliding club has been using a modified auto tow to get the glider airborne, which requires a 1,500-foot rope that attaches to a vehicle. The acceleration of the vehicle is what essentially pulls the glider into the air — similar to the process of running with a kite to get it airborne.

"It's so cool because when you realize that you're just in a structure that's gliding through the air with no power to pull it through and the sounds of not having an engine and just the air whistling by is very serene, and it's very unnatural and cool,” Andrew said.

Andrew said his favorite thing about flying in a glider is being able to “see the world from a different perspective,” and the “feeling of being in control of something so sophisticated.”

“Andrew, he's got about 70 hours flying around with his dad, and when he got in the glider, it was like he was a natural. He was really good at it,” Keyt said. “The level of Andrew's maturity is unbelievable. That kid has his act together. I mean, he gives me hope for our society. When we were restoring the glider, he became a leader of the group. You know, you take 12-, 13- and 14-year-old kids and they'll be clowning around or playing practical jokes or making stupid remarks and Andrew would be the one calling out saying, ‘Hey, pay attention to what's going on.’ He took a leadership role as a 12- and 13-year-old. I was impressed.”

Keyt said he enjoyed getting to see the teens develop bonds and friendships with each other while working on the glider but is disappointed that not many have come back to fly the glider since it was built.

“We have influenced a few people but we haven't even given rides to some of the ones who did a lot of work putting it together,” Keyt said. “Andrew has been the most active young person in our group, and he lives in Alabama.”

Andrew’s diligence in flying the glider is mostly credited to his goal of one day becoming a fighter pilot.

“I do want to fly as a career and that was kind of the jumpstart to all of this. I wanted to start somewhere, so I decided, ‘Why not? Why not fly gliders?’” he said.

Andrew also plans to obtain his private pilot’s license and solo a powered airplane on his 16th birthday, which is also the youngest an individual can power one by themselves.

“Gliders are simpler than powered airplanes, and that's why you can solo a powered airplane when you're 16 and you can get your license when you're 17,” Keyt said. “With a glider, you can solo at 14 and get your license at 16. If you have that skill, it makes flying a powered airplane easier, and it goes the other way if you've already flown powered airplanes, picking up soaring and gliding is easy too.”

Andrew's dream goal is to be the youngest person to fly solo around the world.

"It sounds really crazy, but it's something I've thought about for a while,” Andrew said. “It's going to take a lot of work, but I really want to do it and you're only going to be 17 once so I've got to try.”

Keyt uses his 56 years of flying experience to instruct others on how to fly in a glider. He spent six years as a fighter pilot with the Air Force before serving as a pilot for American Airlines for 30 years.

“Most people when they're learning anything new are struggling and they have to work at it. They've got to see somebody do it. They've got to practice it. They got to make the mistake several times and then finally the light comes on. They say ‘Oh, I get it’ and then they finally make progress,” Keyt said. “It's rewarding as an instructor when you can figure out a different way to describe how to do something and you see the light bulb go off and they get it and start doing it right.”

The club has only been established for two years, but Keyt still hopes to encourage more teens to take an interest in gliding.

“Flying is a very interesting thing. You can't push someone to learn to fly. You can encourage them, make it available and make it be something they might want to do, but they've got to want to do it,” he said.

The Brazos River Gliding Club currently meets every Saturday at Rich Richbourg’s property at Chigger Field Airport, located at 10700 County Road 917 in Cresson.

“It’s even given Rich a little something,” said Kris Jaeckle, local author and member of the club. “His son was telling us this past weekend how much it’s really meant to the family that his dad’s gotten involved with this. It’s just a team. Everyone has pulled together so much and contributed something.”

For more information or to join the Brazos River Gliding Club, call or text Keyt at 817-559-4278.