Our World: The shirt off his back

Surrounded by a group of instructors following his son's first flight, Joe Frick doused his son with a bucket of water, then started to cut out the back of his shirt.

With a few accidental nips of skin, the piece of Mike's shirt was freed to later be signed, dated and posted in the clubhouse as a memento of a first solo flight Tuesday evening at the Immokalee Regional Tradeport.

It's the traditional ending for new pilots.

"Ouch," 14-year-old Mike Frick exclaims while Dad carves up the soaking wet T-shirt in a grassy infield.

While Joe Frick works on the shirt, Mike assures his mom on the phone that he has landed safely. "I think you could hear your mom breathing all the way out here," Joe says of his wife's nervousness. Joe admits he was nervous, too, but it also was a proud moment for the retired two-star Navy admiral to see his son circling alone in a glider.

"We won't let him drive a car by himself, but he can fly a plane — without an engine," jokes Stearns.

Legally, pilots as young as 14 can fly solo in a glider, and at 16 they can fly a powered airplane. Mike's training started in May of last year, and it took 38 flights before he was ready to go solo.

Photo with no caption

Photo by DAVID AHNTHOLZ, Daily News

Barry Barkman, Mike's flight instructor, had taken Mike up twice on Tuesday, getting him ready. On the third flight of the day, John Swasey from High Soaring used a Cessna 182 airplane to tow the sailplane to 1,000 feet, with the young pilot alone at the controls.

Mike had flown the plane many times before, but there always was an instructor in the backseat. "I kept talking to him," Mike says with a still-nervous chuckle, remembering the details of his first solo flight. "Barry wasn't back there, but I kept talking to him."

Jessica Stearns, a flight instructor at High Soaring, says she thinks all pilots should learn to fly a glider before taking the controls of a powered airplane. The former Air Force major and retired captain with Continental Airlines smiles as she talks about using thermals for lift and employing glider techniques — even while flying Boeing 727 airplanes.

She says she thinks starting in a glider makes a better-trained pilot.

At the Frick home in San Carlos Park there's another "aviation nut" waiting to take that first step. Mike's 10-year-old brother Pat can't wait until he gets his chance to fly.

But Dad says he'll have to wait a little longer, and entertain himself with remote control airplanes. Otherwise, he'll be paying for flying lessons for another four years.

© 2006 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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