On Friday morning, the day after his 16th birthday, Thomas Crowell made three solo take-offs and landings from Cobb County Airport-McCollum Field. The feat qualified him for his student pilot’s license. His father, Ed Crowell, said that makes Thomas currently the youngest person in the United States who can legally get in an airplane and fly it by himself.
“Obviously, we’re very proud of him and very impressed,” Ed Crowell said.
Thomas became interested in flying more than three years ago. Also a lover of computers, he built an airplane control panel on his desktop, allowing him to better use his Microsoft Flight Simulator program.
“I tried to find something that combined both my interests,” he said.
On his 14th birthday, Thomas took an introductory flight with an instructor and was hooked, his father said.
“After that, we decided it was something we’d like to pursue,” he said.
After seeing what Thomas could do, his instructor at Aero Atlanta flight school at McCollum, Ben Kroll, determined that he was a rare pilot who could solo at 16, the youngest age legally allowed. After high winds prevented him from making his first solo flight on his birthday, Thomas aced it on Thursday.
“The whole idea of flying solo is to do a pattern around the airport,” Ed Crowell said. “The hardest part is taking off and landing.”
While he has had an instructor beside him in the past, Thomas was now responsible for all communication with the control tower and making sure he was clear for landing.
“It was very odd,” Thomas said. “Every time I’ve flown in the past, there was someone there to correct me if I made a mistake. I had to not be concerned about doing something wrong and get myself safely on the ground.”
Thomas said others can fly at a young age if they are dedicated to it.
“People who are interested in aviation don’t really pursue it until they are older,” he said. “If you stick with it and continue taking lessons and learning, it is definitely a possibility for anyone who is interested in doing it.”
Thomas maintains A and B grades at Dominion Christian in west Cobb and plays on the school golf team.
The next step for Thomas, who was licensed to fly before he was licensed to drive, is getting his private pilot’s license, which he will be eligible for when he turns 17. From there, he plans to work toward becoming a commercial airline pilot.