16-year-old soars in first solo helicopter flight

Flying his first love
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Soaring high above Auburn Tuesday, 16-year-old Austin Bowa was connecting with his true love — flying — on Valentine’s Day The day of his 16th birthday, the high-flying teenager from El Dorado Hills took his first solo flight in a yellow Robinson R-22 helicopter at Sierra Air in Auburn. Surrounded by family, friends and several media outlets, Austin took his inaugural flight at 7:15 a.m. and gave an encore flight at noon. “It was pretty exciting. I was a little nervous at first. I got up there and the nerves went away,” Austin said. “I’ll get my (driver’s) license tomorrow, so I’ve soloed a helicopter before a car.” Austin, who attends Ponderosa High School, has wanted to be a helicopter pilot since he was a child. Now, his dream has finally taken flight. “We went to Hawaii and did a helicopter tour there and I’ve wanted to fly ever since then,” Austin said. “You can take them so many places and there is so much you can do with them.” He said one day he may want to become a military helicopter pilot or fly in the private sector. “They are a lot more maneuverable (than airplanes). You can go down in canyons or places you can’t get to see in a fixed twin,” Bowa said. His parents started him in flying lessons at 14. Since then he has flown about once a week with Sierra Air Instructor John Crowder to prepare for his solo debut. “It’s very exciting. Most of the time when you are watching the first solo you are nervous. He has been good from day one,” Crowder said. “He is not only a good pilot; he is also a great student. It’s hard to get people that are great pilots, but also put in the study time.” Crowder said Austin’s ability to stay calm in the cockpit makes him a steady pilot. “If the law would have allowed me, I would have let him solo a long time ago,” Crowder said. “Usually the students that turn out to be better students are the ones who can stay calm and not get nervous.” Shelly Bowa, his mother, said it was fitting for her son to take his first solo flight on Valentine’s Day and his birthday. “He has a love for flying. That is what is neat about it being Valentine’s Day,” Shelly Bowa said. “This is his true love — his helicopter.” When it came to watching her son take off alone for the first time, she said she was nervous, but knew he was well-prepared. “It was pretty scary, but I knew he was ready,” Shelly Bowa said. “He has got more hours in a helicopter than he does in a car.” Austin, who also plays drums, said flying is his favorite hobby. “It’s a lot of fun and it’s worth trying if you have any desire to fly,” Austin said. “You can still fly really young like I did.” Reach Sara Seyydin at