Michelle Stiebs celebrated her 16th birthday by flying solo.
"It was scary, but it was fun," she said of the approximately five minutes she was up in the air by herself.
The flight took place on May 1 at Waupaca Municipal Airport – Brunner Field.
"The reward is seeing her smile," said Pete Andersen, the fixed base operator at the airport and owner of Plane Guys Aviation,
Last November, Plane Guys Aviation offered Stiebs a scholarship for flight instruction.
About six months prior to that, Mayor Brian Smith appointed her the student representative on the city’s Airport Board.
"She would come to the meetings and hold herself so professionally," Andersen said. "She asked questions, had a good foundation and would watch planes and smile."
Stiebs’ mother, Sandy, works at the airport on Saturdays, and Andersen first asked her if she thought her daughter would be interested in learning how to fly an airplane.
The now 16-year-old Stiebs said, "One day, Mom asked if I wanted to go for an airplane ride."
After arriving at the local airport, Richard Merkley, a flight instructor for Plane Guys Aviation, began explaining everything about the plane to Stiebs.
"I remember thinking, ‘I just want to go for a ride,’" she said.
Merkley invited her to join him up front in the plane.
After he landed the airplane, they said to her, "We have something to show you."
That is when she learned of the scholarship offer.
"I didn’t know what to say," Stiebs said. "It was a big surprise. Right after that, I left for my first (behind-the-wheel) drive (in a car)."
And so, over the course of the winter, she began learning how to fly a plane, meeting weekly with Merkley for her lessons.
"She handles the plane excellently," Andersen said. "She was able to solo with the permission of her instructor. She can solo around the airport. She has a lot of instruction to do for the next year. On her 17th birthday, she will be able to get her license. FAA regulations are you have to be 17 to get your pilot’s license."
When her flight instruction began, he offered Stiebs the choice of learning on one of two airplanes – a Rans 57 tailwheel aircraft or an Allegro 2000 tri-gear.
She chose the Rans 57.
Andersen said it is the more difficult of the two aircrafts and that since she does not know the difference, it was better for her to learn on the tougher of the two.
"Very few pilots know how to fly that. She’s starting her pilot’s license with credentials most pilots never get," he said. "It’s quite an accomplishment to get a tailwind endorsement at any time. She did it right from the beginning."
When Stiebs went to the airport last week, she thought it would just be another lesson for her.
After checking the weather with Merkley, she learned what the real plan was.
First, Stiebs went up in the aircraft wth Merkley and did the pattern with him three or four times.
"We knew if he stepped out, she was going to do it," her mother said.
Stiebs was shaking and did the pattern she had practiced with her instructor, landing the aircraft perfectly.
Family members were on the ground when she landed.
Her father, Rick, is now talking about renewing his pilot’s license. Her older brother Jason is proud of her.
Stiebs’ mother has been watching the numerous flights her daughter has been making.
"It’s so neat," she said. "It makes me proud watching her."
For Stiebs, her favorite part about being up in the air is looking down at the scenery.
She plans to keep up with her sports license and may eventually get her private pilot’s license.
And, this wasn’t her only test in the last week.
On Monday, May 7, she took her driving test in Waupaca and passed.
After flying solo the previous week, the test in the car was a piece of cake.
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