The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

NW student learns art of flying small planes at young age

By Sandy Hill/reporter

The average 18-year-old has a driver’s license and may own a car. But Cagle Johnson isn’t an average 18-year-old.

Johnson, a NW Campus student with a driver’s license, also has a student pilot’s license. After 10 hours of flight instruction with his father Joey Johnson, an airline pilot, he took his first solo flight July 11.

The flight happened after one of the father-son duo’s flying lessons. Cagle Johnson had no idea his father was about to let him fly alone.

“We landed at the FBO [Fixed Base Operation] at Alliance after several touch-and-gos,” Cagle Johnson said. “He told me to keep the engine running.”

Trusting that his dad would not let him fly before he was ready, Cagle Johnson said he wasn’t nervous when his father stepped out of the plane.

“I wasn’t nervous until I landed,” he said.

Describing it as “perfect,” Cagle Johnson shared the excitement of his first solo flight.

“It was freedom, freedom for about five minutes,” he said. “I was yelling, ‘I’m flying an airplane! I’m flying an airplane!’ All I could hear was my garbled voice over the headset.”

For as long as he can remember, Cagle Johnson has wanted to fly.

Growing up, he and his dad spent time watching movies about flying. Christmas and birthdays always included flight-related gifts.

As a young boy, Cagle Johnson recalled sitting in a pilot chair on a Six Flags amusement park ride watching a movie as if flying in the cockpit of an F-16 through desert canyons. 

He waited in line at the same ride watching televisions that showed Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in the orange experimental plane called Glamorous Glennis.

Bringing his memories closer to home, Johnson remembered going to grass fields to watch his dad fly remote control planes.

“It’s always been a lifelong dream, since day one,” he said. “Like father, like son … it was just in me.”

Wanting to be like his dad was a given, but Cagle Johnson had even bigger aspirations. He dreamed of flying with the Blue Angels at air shows or shooting off an aircraft carrier in an F-18.

“I definitely wanted to join the Air Force Academy and be a Top Gun pilot like Tom Cruise,” he said.

Joey Johnson would love to see his son become an airline pilot but said his timing may be a little off.

“With the industry down, I would tell him to get qualified as a backup, and when the industry turns around, then jump into it,” he said.

Joey Johnson, a pilot with American Eagle for 20 years, looked into purchasing a plane earlier this year.

“I bought it to teach Cagle how to fly primarily,” he said.

Another underlying reason for Joey Johnson’s purchase was to satisfy a longtime desire of his own.

“I’ve reached the halfway mark in my life,” he said. “I fly for a living, and I’ve never owned an airplane.”

In May, he purchased a 1970 Cessna 150 from DonateYourPlane.com, a charitable organization in Alabama that sells aircraft.

Joey Johnson paid $15,000 for the plane, deciding it would be more economical to buy it and give his son lessons than pay to rent one.

Joey Johnson said flight schools typically quote $8,000 to get a private pilot’s license.

“In 1984, an airplane rented for about $25 an hour,” he said. “Today, the same airplane rents for about $75 to $80 an hour.”

After repairs were made to make the plane airworthy, there was one other drawback. The ministry that owned the two-passenger plane was located in Grants Pass, Ore.

On May 20, the father and son took a commercial flight to Oregon to bring the plane home. But two days into the trip, the two experienced mountainous terrain and rising temperatures in Nevada, so Cagle Johnson had to take a commercial flight home from Reno to lighten the load.

Without him aboard, the plane would perform better.

The plane arrived at its new home at Northwest Regional Airport in Roanoke five days after the quest began.

Johnson started giving his son flying lessons over the next few weeks.

“We covered all moving flight surfaces, how to do a walk-around, how inputs on flight controls affect the airplane and stalls,” Cagle Johnson said.

“Much of it actually came to me harder than I thought, having played flight simulators for hours on end and having flown along with my dad numerous times.”

Cagle’s dad thought he caught on pretty quickly.

“He hit the usual stumbling blocks when it came to good landings,” Joey Johnson said. “But after some extended practice, he finally got into the groove and was hitting them just right.”

Recounting that day, Cagle Johnson said he could not compare it to anything else he’d ever experienced.

“You’re just up there in the air,” he said. “There are rules, but there are no roads you have to follow, no blinkers to change lanes.”

Joey Johnson expressed his own nervousness about his son’s first flight.

“Needless to say, I had quite a few knots in my stomach when he first taxied out,” he said. “After he took off, I settled down and just reassured myself he was capable of doing what I had taught him to do.”

Cagle Johnson plans to continue accumulating hours in his dad’s plane until he can secure a private pilot’s license, which involves a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, passing a written and an oral exam, completing an extensive solo cross country flight and successfully demonstrating flying skills to a Federal Aviation Administration examiner.

Cagle Johnson recommends that others take advantage of any opportunity they can to learn to fly.

“If they have the opportunity, they need to take it,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.” 

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