A duo flies solo: Grandson, grandfather share journey to a pilot’s certificate

Jenny Gessaman
Grandson and grandfather stand in front of a small private plane on a runway.
The two come from the same family, and are taking the same training, but their motivations and ages are on different ends of the spectrum. Isaiah Kolar, 16-year-old grandson, is starting his future.

“I want to make a career out of it,” he said. “I want to be a commercial pilot.”

Charley Karinen, the grandfather retired from 36 years of teaching, is pursuing a long-time passion.

“I wanted to continue learning something new, and I’ve always been interested in aviation,” he said.

Despite these contrasts, the family duo started together last spring, Charley in March and Isaiah in May. Both are aiming for their private pilot certificate, and their successes would create four generations of pilots.

Separate planes, same lessons
According to Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, a student needs 35-40 hours of training to pass the practical test for such a certificate, although the department says national averages show many need 60-75 hours to pass.

Charley and Isaiah’s continual trainings are dependent on weather and equipment. For Charley, budget can be also a big constraint. For Isaiah, time is a greater restriction, especially during the school year.

“It’s a lot of after school and a lot of weekends,” he said.

He does not mind, though.

“It just takes the stress off for me,” Isaiah explained.

Grandson and grandfather share the fears, challenges and successes as they progress through training, a fact their families know all too well.

“Well, we talk about it, compare notes I guess,” Charley said, adding with a laugh, “I annoy our families.”

The pair may be known for their aviation chatter, but through their conversations, grandson and grandfather have found some comparable experiences.

“Landing is the hardest part for me so far,” Isaiah said. “There’s a lot to do in a short amount of time.”

Charley agreed, elaborating that landing was the most challenging because of simultaneous calculations on speed, altitude and angles.

Even with the discussions, the family encourages the two potential pilots.

“My dad is proud and supportive,” Isaiah said. “Mom is a little more nervous.”

“My wife doesn’t seem to worry,” Charley laughed.

With support and dedication, both students have achieved a milestone: Charley and Isaiah have flown alone.

The experience, known as “soloing” in aviation terms, is a milestone for training pilots. So much so that is the U.S., it is commemorated by cutting off the back of the student’s shirt. The student’s name and the date are written on the scrap, and it’s hung on the instructor’s wall.

Charley and Isaiah wore the same shirt to solo, and on the wall of Langford Aviation, two identical bits of fabric are posted side by side with their names.

Same family, different students
Both Isaiah and his grandfather label Dan Langford as a good instructor: They describe him as patient and encouraging, teaching from a greater body of experience than they feel the average instructors might have. In turn, Langford described them both as good, if different, students.

Langford is a pilot of 24 years, and the owner and operator of Langford Aviation. The business started in 2008 and offers services from maintenance to flight instruction. So far, Langford has had six students solo, including the grandson and grandfather.

The two don’t train together, according to Langford, but learn the same lessons for the same private-pilot-certificate goal. The difference in ages helps contrast the two students in Langford’s eyes.

Younger students learn quickly, Langford explained, as if they were playing a video game. While their skills come quickly, the veteran pilot warned that same speed could also put them in a hurry.

Langford labeled older students as cautious and reserved. That quality could mean a student progresses more slowly, but it also keeps them out of trouble. Despite different ways of learning, Langford saw the same drive in grandfather and grandson.

“They’re both doing a good job and they both want to learn,” he said.

Fly off into the sunset
The lessons continue for Isaiah and Charley, who are soon to tackle longer distances and night flights.

“I just take it a day at a time,” Charley said.

His aim is set for a private pilot certificate, and maybe one day a plane of his own.

“For me, I’m too old to do anything with it other than recreational,” he explained. “My plan is to rent this plane and fly locally.”

While the certification is also a goal of Isaiah’s, it will be one of many smaller achievements required for a bigger dream.

“In order to fly in a big airline, like I want to, you have to get a series of rating and certificates,” he said.

Langford doesn’t see any obstacles in his path.

“Isaiah is very driven, extremely motivated,” he said. “To be 16 and know what you want to do in life is pretty cool.”



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