First flight: Spencer Yoder solos on 16th birthday

Tullahoma High School student Spencer Yoder has completed his first solo fight. In the United States, pilots can operate powered aircraft alone beginning at the age of 16. On the day he turned 16 – Sept. 26 – Spencer took plane into the air by himself at the Shelbyville Municipal Airport.

Many teenagers hope for a car for their 16th birthday. Tullahoma resident Spencer Yoder set his sights a lot higher – literally.

Spencer celebrated the milestone by completing his first solo flight.

In the United States, pilots can “solo” powered aircraft beginning at the age of 16.

Spencer is not one to procrastinate, so on the day he turned 16 – Sept. 26 – he took an aircraft to the air by himself.

A student at Tullahoma High School, Spencer didn’t let his busy schedule prevent him from achieving his goal.

He studied the complex process of flying and trained for weeks before he could take the airplane to the sky without an instructor.

Jordan Whittaker, certified flight instructor with the Shelbyville Flight Academy, trained Spencer. The flight was completed at the Shelbyville Municipal Airport.

“I had been taking lessons for almost a month,” Spencer said. “I had about 12 or 13 flight hours before my solo flight.”

Seeing people and buildings become smaller while the aircraft ascended in the air was a thrilling experience, said Spencer.

“It was very exciting,” he said. “I spent about 30 minutes flying by myself. I completed three landings by myself. I was excited the whole time – I don’t think I calmed down [the entire time].”

The feeling of taking an aircraft thousands of feet above the ground is unforgettable, said Spencer. 

“My favorite thing of being in the air is the relaxation and the beauty,” Spencer said.

Spencer operated Cessna 172, a four-seat, single-engine airplane.


Finding aviation passion

He can’t pinpoint what exactly sparked his interest in flying, but Spencer’s passion for aviation started years ago.

“I have been interested in flying my entire life,” Spencer said. “I just really wanted to fly a plane on my 16th birthday. To me, that was more important than getting a driver’s license.”

His next aviation goal is completing the necessary training to acquire a pilot’s license. The minimum age for obtaining a private pilot certificate for powered flight is 17. 

“I would like to get my private pilot license as soon as I can – on my 17th birthday,” Spencer said.

Obtaining a private pilot license requires approximately 50 hours of flight time.

“You also have to complete two or three solo cross-country flights and to take a long, written test,” Spencer said.


Supporting his love for flying

Spencer’s parents have supported his interest in becoming a pilot.

“Spencer has always been interested in flying,” said Bill Yoder, Spencer’s father. “In fact, before he had a phone, he had an iPod Touch, and all of his games on it were flight simulator games. He has always been fascinated with flying.”

Yoder enjoyed watching Spencer’s first solo flight.

“I was there for his first solo flight,” Yoder said. “Of course, it was a little bit scary – I was a little apprehensive to think my son was taking an airplane out by himself, without the instructor. He did a very nice job. He flew it probably better without the instructor than with the instructor.”

Yoder added he and his wife, Lane, are proud of their Spencer’s accomplishment.


About the academy

The Shelbyville Flight Academy is located at 2828 US-231 in Shelbyville.

The organization offers flights, ground school and flight training.

The ground school provides courses for pilots in training and people who are just interested in learning about aviation.

For more information, call 615-691-2746.

Elena Cawley may be reached at