DeKALB – For most teenagers, 16th birthdays mean one thing: A driver’s license.
Hunter Cobb had a different priority. Instead of a trip to the DMV for his 16th, his parents took him to DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport where he completed his first solo flight Monday.
“That’s what he always wanted to do,” Hunter’s mom, Tanya Sharp, said. “He said, ‘On my 16th birthday, I want to solo.’ So that’s what he has worked for all this time.”
Since he first started flying with an instructor about a year and a half ago, Cobb, a junior at Sycamore High School, had been preparing for this day. But with sustained winds of over 10 mph and gusting to about 15, and the pressure of a crowd of supporters on hand to watch, it was up to flight instructor David Gillingham alone to decide whether Cobb could take the controls alone.
“This is a very stressful moment for a kid,” Gillingham said. “We’ve got parents, and friends and grandparents here ... and it’s my final call to say, ‘He’s got his game on today.’ ”
With all eyes on him, Cobb climbed into a Piper Cherokee Warrior single-engine plane, and did a few landings and takeoffs with the instructor before getting the go-ahead from Gillingham to take flight on his own for the first time.
“[Gillingham] told me before we took off first the first time, that he would have solo’d me two weeks ago except that I wasn’t 16 yet,” Cobb said after touching down. “I couldn’t really believe that I was flying by myself. It’s unexplainable.”
Cobb, who already had spent 25 hours in the air, denies that nerves played any factor, but his parents couldn’t say the same for themselves.
“I think I’m more nervous than Hunter is,” Cobb’s stepfather, Mike Sharp said. “ [Gillingham] has said he’s shut [the flight systems] down on [Cobb], and Hunter just kind of does his thing. He’s like a machine. He flips the switches back on, and continues on.”
Cobb said he plans to continue on in the aviation industry but has no solid plans in place yet. Already though, his experiences have influenced his little sister Hannah to take up flying.
“We figure he’ll get his license and take his little sister up and teach her how to fly too,” Mike Sharp said. “Two birds with one stone.”
• Note to readers: This story was changed to accurately identify Hunter Cobb.