South Tahoe teen takes flight
February 8, 2013
Fifteen-year-old South Shore resident Grant Swift can’t quite pinpoint the moment flight first grabbed his interest.
But now that the love of being airborne has taken hold, it appears unlikely to let go.
“He doesn’t want to slow down when he has a goal,” said Russell Holtz, chief flight instructor at SoaringNV in Minden, who has flown with Swift dozens of times in the past couple years as part of the teenager’s push toward a license to glide.
Despite the aerial maneuvers Holtz and Swift have performed in the skies above Lake Tahoe, it was the first time Holtz didn’t fly with Swift that may be the most memorable.
On Jan. 18, after some short flights with Swift, Holtz stepped out of the two-seat glider at Minden-Tahoe Airport where Swift was sitting, shut the cockpit and gave Swift the green light for his first solo flight.
“I said ‘Am I soloing?” Swift recalled during a Thursday interview at his parents’ home near the base of Echo Summit. “He said ‘Yeah, you are.'”
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“I was a little nervous because I wasn’t expecting it, but once I got in the air I was pretty relaxed,” Swift added, calling his landing “pretty solid.”
Although it wasn’t a particularly long flight as far as gliding goes, it was a big milestone for the teenager, and a big step from his first experience in a glider.
During that flight, Swift recalled being nervous to touch the glider’s controls.
“I didn’t want to hurt myself or the glider,” Swift said.
A bumpy takeoff also made the teenager’s blood pressure spike.
“I had the life scared out of me,” Swift said. “I was seeing if I was still there.”
After gaining altitude with the help of a tow plane, Swift briefly took control and steered the glider a bit during his first flight, but mostly admired the view. From there, the development of his piloting skills has come pretty naturally, he said.
Swift was introduced to gliding through the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary to the U.S. Air Force. He received some of his glider flight training from the patrol, which also awarded him a competitive scholarship to help fund his aerial pursuits.
His training has also been apart of SoaringNV’s Youth Soaring Academy, which teaches people as young as 14 how to glide.
It’s pretty common for teenagers pursuing a glider license to need a ride to and from the airport, Holtz said. Swift doesn’t seem to mind.
“At the rate I’m going, I’m going to have a pilot’s license before I have driver’s license,” Swift said with a smile.
“Kind of hard to pick up your date,” quipped Grant’s father Scott, a captain at Lake Valley Fire Protection District.
Grant hopes to have his license to glide by early this summer. He hopes a license to fly powered planes will follow.
He said he likes gliding “because it’s fun to do and it’s what I want to do when I get older.” His younger brother Weston, 12, is also anxious to take up the pursuit.
Grant said he is considering joining the Air Force and hopes to fly large transport planes like the Boeing C-17 one day, something both his parents have encouraged.
“It’s just great opportunity for the kids and it’s really accessible to everyone,” Grant’s mother, Lisa Swift, said of the Civil Air Patrol.
An aspiring pilot himself, Scott said it’s more difficult to get the hours needed for a pilot’s license as you get older, so he’s happy Grant has started young.
“I think when you’re passionate about something it shows,” Scott Swift said. “You get the foundation and you build off it.”