By HENRY M. HOLDEN, For General Aviation News
May 6 was a very special day for Kevin Barbee and his mother, Vickie. It was Kevin’s 16th birthday — and the day that both student pilots soloed for the first time at Henderson-Oxford Airport (HNZ) in North Carolina.
Since Kevin didn’t have his driver’s license, his mother had to drive him to the airport, where both had been taking flying lessons at Empire Aviation’s flight school.
Kevin was the first in the family to express an interest in aviation. “We were sitting down to dinner one night, and I asked him if he had any idea what he wanted to be when he grew up,” said Vickie Barbee. “He said, ‘I think I want to be a pilot.’ He was so matter-of-fact about it I knew it was something that he had given some thought to.”
Barbee decided to go to Empire Aviation, and speak with Paul Hesse, a flight instructor, who told her he had a ground school starting that 14-year-old Kevin could attend, but noted the teen would have to wait until he was 16 before he could solo. That was in September 2008.
“We homeschool so I thought it was important to see what Kevin was doing so I could incorporate it into his homeschooling,” said Barbee. “I asked Paul if I could sit in on the ground school.”
“Vickie was very interested in all the safety aspects,” said Hesse. “She is a very protective mother.”
She also took an active role in the learning process, Hesse said, noting she was getting bored sitting in the classroom, so she decided to go with Kevin on one of his flights. “That was followed by her sitting in the back seat on every flight,” he said.
“I became interested, and I wanted to try it,” she said. “I took my Discovery Flight in February 2009.”
The mother-son duo soon became regulars at the airport. “The environment is just right,” Barbee said. “The pilots are all friendly, and knowledgeable, and help us out whenever we ask. It is a really nice place to be.”
Soon, the two were working at the airport. “At one point Paul said he could use some help around the office,” said Barbee. “I had office experience, so that was easy. Paul asked Kevin if he could wash airplanes, and if he wanted to fly some ferry flights with him. Kevin enjoys that. He likes the mechanical side of the airplanes.”
During all this, the pair continued their flight lessons. Hesse tried to get Barbee to solo a couple of times, but she didn’t want to upstage Kevin.
“She was ready and could have soloed before Kevin, but she didn’t want to leave him behind, in a sense. I admired that in her.”
“It was his challenge, not mine,” she said. “I thought that I’d wait until he soloed and then solo a couple of days later. I also thought I’d see how my nerves were on the day that Kevin soloed.”
Everything went well for Kevin. After the teen soloed in the 172, Hesse walked over to Barbee and extended his hand. “I knew if I didn’t reach out and say, ‘Vickie, it’s time,’ she would continue to postpone her solo,” he said. “She was ready, but a little nervous. It was interesting how she made the transition from excited mother to focused pilot.”
“It was great,” she said. “For Kevin and me to do this on the same day was spectacular.”
Kevin now is researching potential careers as a commercial pilot. “He’s interested in corporate jets or maybe FedEx, and we believe that he’ll find what he wants to do because he’s researching and carefully making decisions,” his proud mother said.
Meanwhile, Kevin continues his flight lessons. “He’s ready for his cross country,” said Hesse. “We’re going to do some instrument work and maybe by the time he gets his license he’ll be ready for his IFR check ride.”
Barbee also plans to get her private ticket.
“We’ve gotten so into aviation that unless the weather is really bad we’re out on the airport every day,” she said. “It’s not just about taking lessons. Every day is an adventure because we never know what we’ll be doing in aviation.”
For more information: Empire-Aviation.com.