Newton teen makes first solo flight on 16th birthday

COVINGTON - While most 16-year-olds are itching to get behind the wheel of a car, Newton County teen Chris Waters spent his milestone birthday far above the road.

Waters made his first solo flight on Tuesday, his 16th birthday. With family members and friends watching, he took off in a Piper Cherokee 140 from the Monroe-Walton County Airport at 8:28 p.m. He made two loops following the airport traffic pattern and landed safely several minutes later. The flight was an important achievement toward getting his student pilot certificate.

It also means that Waters has flown an airplane by himself before driving a car solo.

With aspirations to become a Navy fighter pilot after graduating high school, "I figured I'd get a jump start on it," said Waters, who has been flying for about a year. The minimum age to fly solo is 16.

Waters has already logged 25 hours in the air. He must get a total of 40, and complete two cross-country trips, before earning his student pilot certificate, which he plans to have in hand on June 30, 2010 - his 17th birthday.

Waters said that he was confident, not scared, during the solo flight, but added that he got lonely without his instructor, Bill Leppert.

His mother, Priscilla Waters, admitted she was a little nervous at first, but, "When he took off and it was smooth, I was OK," she said, adding that she's more worried about her son's driving test, scheduled for today.

Waters said he likes flying because, "It's safer than driving and it gets better gas mileage."

According to his mom, he's always been a daredevil.

"Nothing scares him," she said.

He requested a dirt bike at age 3, and when mom said no because he was still riding a bike on training wheels, "I said, 'Take the training wheels off,' and I rode down the street," Waters said.

Waters also participates in clay shooting competitions with Walton County 4-H and is captain of the Eastside High School Rocketry Team, which designs, builds and launches model rockets.

A rising junior at Eastside, Waters wants to attend the United States Naval Academy after graduation and, following his Navy career, fly a private jet for a Fortune 500 company.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.