When he was a child, Colin Martin’s mother Mary Pat took him to play on the playground at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK). Now, she gives a friendly warning to the parents there.
“You better watch out,” Mary Pat said. “I used to bring him here to play too when he was a child, now flying is his hobby.”
Four years ago, at the age of 13, Colin and a friend of his participated in a Young Eagles Association event at Briscoe Field in Gwinnett. The event was designed to get young people interested in aviation. Apparently it worked. Colin said after he went up in a plane the first time he was hooked.
“It’s probably just in my blood. My grandfather was a private pilot,” Colin said.
After his experience at Briscoe Field, Colin began looking for flight schools and found one at PDK. To pay for his lessons he mowed lawns and did other odd jobs.
“I thought the money would get to him because, as much as we would have loved to pay for it for him, that was just not something we could do, but he found a way,” Mary Pat said.
Colin, 17, is a senior at St. Pius High School and recently got his private pilot’s license. Mary Pat is afraid of flying, but after Colin got his license she had to make good on a promise she made four years ago.
“I told him if he got his license I would be the first one in the family to go up in the plane with him,” Mary Pat said. “I thought it was just a fad.”
As Colin stood by the small Cessna he did his first solo flight in, he said the experience of being alone in the plane for the first time was surreal. When he took his first solo flight, Colin’s entire family came out to PDK and sat on the bleachers next to the playground to watch.
“The instructor said, ‘We’ll go up a couple of times and do some touch and go’s and when he’s ready I’ll get out on the runway and he’ll do his first [solo],’” Mary Pat explained. So, the family sat and watched patiently as Colin’s plane took off the runway, circled around, and touched back down. After an hour, Mary Pat began to wonder if Colin would be able to take the solo flight.
“We watched him do it seven times and we thought, ‘He’s not going to do it, he’s too nervous.’ But sure enough, all of a sudden we saw the door open and the instructor got out,” Mary Pat said.
Colin said when his instructor stepped out he pretended he was still there. In the air, the plane felt a little more left heavy, and at times was so silent it seemed as if the engine wasn’t on, Colin said.
There is a ritual among pilots, Colin said, where after his or her first solo flight the instructor and their friends cut the back of the pilot’s shirt.
“That goes back to when people trained on biplanes and they did that to remind you there’s no one behind you. Usually, they write on it but they couldn’t write on mine because it was so sweaty,” Colin said. Now his shirt hangs in a hallway in the flight school at PDK, with all of the other students who have completed their training.
Mary Pat and Colin’s father Jim said they trust their son completely in the air by himself. Mary Pat finds comfort in the fact Colin’s instructor trusts him enough to let him fly such an expensive plane alone, and Jim, whose father was a pilot, said at times it was a little “unnerving.”
“He’s so responsible and so mature about the methods he follows, I know he’s doing stuff the way he’s told so I trust him,” Jim said.
Colin saved nearly $7,500 to pay for his pilot’s license and plans on going to college to make a career of flying. He said he plans to attend either Middle Georgia College or Auburn to obtain his commercial pilot’s license. He wants to work for Delta or another major airline.
To date, Colin has spent nearly 60 hours in the air (the FAA minimum to obtain a license is 40). He said his favorite thing about flying is the freedom it offers him.
“I’ve come here and taken friends from St. Pius up just for fun flights around and sightseeing,” Colin said. “It’s neat just to be able to just come out here and go fly.”
Mary Pat said it would probably be a while before she stepped on another small plane with her son, but it was still nice to have a pilot “on call” in the family.
“He said, ‘Mom, I could rent a six person plane and we could fly to Florida,’” an option Mary Pat said she was all too happy to think over.