OTTUMWA — A couple days after getting FAA approval to fly, he’ll finally get his Iowa driver’s license.
“I’d never soloed anyone on their 16th birthday before,” said Keeley Paris, an Ottumwa professional pilot and flight instructor.
That’s the youngest age at which a person can fly a plane by themselves. As of Sunday, Dakota Quinn, 16, of Ottumwa, doesn’t even need an instructor at the airport.
“The fixed base operator [at the Ottumwa Regional Airport] is run by the Kecks; they have airplanes to rent. I can fly anywhere within 20 miles of the airport.”
That’s plenty for a sightseeing trip over the town, though he can’t have any passengers. At 16, Dakota has earned his student pilot’s license.
“My grandfather is the one who got me interested in flying. He took me to an air show, and the Piper Cub is the first plane I ever flew in. I was 8 years old.”
As a child, he asked the pilot of the 1940s aircraft about learning to fly. Les Gaskill met with the boy a couple times a year.
“My first logged entry was when I was 11 years old,” said Dakota. “Now I volunteer at the Antique Airfield with my grandfather, Dan Quinn.”
Paris is another of his flight instructors, though he has trained the 16 year old in a more modern aircraft. On Sunday, Dakota soloed in the 1940s J3 he first flew in, then soloed in the 1980s Warrior airplane. So in addition to his student pilot’s license, he’s now qualified on two airplanes — one of which was more than 50 years older than Dakota Quinn.
“These are two very different airplanes, “ said Paris. “They land very differently. To qualify in two in one day would be an accomplishment for an adult.”
Landing wrong in the tail heavy Cub can be dangerous, he added. Dakota learned that the hard way.
During training, “I did a real bad landing, and thought to myself that I wouldn’t be able to do it. But then I got better and better.”
As the sun came up on Sunday, an impressed Paris said, “he did what few people have done on the sunrise of their 16th birthday; he soloed in a 1940s tail dragger airplane.”
He did great, Paris said, then changed his mindset in order to switch to the contemporary plane. But why two in one day?
“That’s what he wanted; he volunteered to do that,” said Paris.
“I wanted to challenge myself, see if I could do it,” explained Dakota.
Paris said Dakota’s grandpa, Dan, inspired him to become a pilot and later, a professional. Paris taught Dan Quinn to fly, then had the chance to teach Dan’s grandson. Paris said Dakota can take his private pilot’s license test and test flight when he is 17.
“I think I’m going to try for my 17th birthday. I like the way this worked out,” the teen said.
Flying will definitely be part of Dakota’s life, but he’s gone back and forth on whether he’d do it for a living. He could get his professional pilot’s license at 18.
“I’m not 100 percent sure,” he said when asked if flying would become his job. "But I think it could be."
He’s a responsible, motivated kid, said Paris. He already works part time, and Paris expects whatever Dakota does, he’ll be successful.
“If he’s successful enough,” speculated Paris, “10 years down the road, I might be asking him for a job.”
Reporter Mark Newman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @couriermark.