Manitoulin Island’s first scholarship pilot completes her first solo flight

Avery Sheppard, Manitoulin’s first scholarship student pilot, completed her first solo flight on Tuesday at the Gore Bay-Manitoulin Airport.

GORE BAY – Manitoulin’s first scholarship student pilot has now completed her first solo flight.

“It was fun,” stated 17-year-old Avery Sheppard of Mindemoya regarding her first flight this past Tuesday at the Gore Bay-Manitoulin Airport. Asked if she was nervous Avery replied, “not really.” She is the first recipient of the Gore Bay Flying Club’s (GBFC) Youth Pilot Training Scholarship.

With family and flying club members watching expectantly, Avery flew four circuits with GBFC instructor Wade Cook. A circuit is a take-off, circling around, then landing. Avery stopped the plane and Mr. Cook got out before Ms. Sheppard taxied back to the start of the runway and took off alone. She flew one circuit, executed a skillful, smooth landing despite some crosswind then taxied to the fuel pumps where she received many congratulations. 

As Avery climbed out of the club plane, a Piper Cherokee 140, she said, “I could feel the difference without Wade, especially on take-off.”

Mr. Cook said flying solo for the first time, “is more of a psychological barrier than physical because of the realization you are flying on your own.” 

“Avery did a very good job flying, even with the crosswinds, she did really well,” said Mr. Cook. “Crosswinds are hard to deal with even for licenced  pilots. But Avery did fine. She flared the airplane perfectly and made a good landing.”

At the conclusion of her solo flight, family, friends and co-members of the flying club greeted Avery. “When you go on a solo flight for the first time it is said you are reborn, airborne, and that is why we douse those who complete their first solo flight with water,” said Mr. Cook in completing the pilot’s tradition.

Gore Bay-Manitoulin Airport manager Robby Colwell then, in another tradition, took scissors to cut off the peak of Avery’s hat.

Avery’s goal is to earn her private pilot’s licence. She was selected by the Gore Bay Flying Club as this year’s recipient of their new Youth Pilot Training Scholarship. The scholarship covers all the recipient’s costs to earn a licence, normally several thousand dollars, with donations from the Island community.

“Avery has made great progress since we started lessons in June. She’s a sharp, hardworking student pilot and I’m sure she will earn her licence soon,” said Ms. Cook.

At 17 Avery is also the club’s youngest student pilot as well as the club’s first female student pilot. Scholarship committee chair Mark Wilson noted, “we are very pleased that Avery is our first recipient becoming a pilot. My mom was a pilot and I think she’d be very proud to see Avery doing so well.”

Now that she has completed her first solo flight “she will fly progressively less with me in the plane,” explained Mr. Cook. “She still has lots of work to do. She has to learn navigation cross-country and take five hours of airplane instrument training just looking at and learning about each of the instruments in the plane. Then she will be ready for her flight test and written tests.” If she is successful, that will lead to earning her private pilot licence. 

“One of the reasons we started all of this is that there is no Air Cadets program on the Island and by offering this youth pilot training scholarship we are hoping to make this a yearly thing,” added Mr. Cook.