Seventeen-year-old Josiah Bierle is pursuing his passion and doing something that most people his age don’t know how to do.
The high school student, who recently celebrated his birthday, marked his special day with a grand achievement by attaining a private pilot’s license not more than a year after he did his first solo run when he was 16-years-old.
Bierle spent many hours at the Executive Flight Institute in French Valley between the two hour oral component of his test and an actual test run in a plane in order to achieve his distinction as a private pilot, a distinction his father Shawn says few high school students have actually achieved.
According to 2011 data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), only 194,441 people in a country of 300 million had a private pilot’s license. Shawn said he believed that given that such a small percentage of the population actually has a private pilot’s license, the number of individuals in Josiah’s age group who can boast a license of their own is minute.
For Josiah, the passion to fly runs deep. He’s wanted to be a pilot since the time he was 7-years-old, when Shawn took him on his first ride aboard a plane.
Since that time Josiah has never wavered in his commitment to one day become a pilot, according to his father. Shawn said that he and his wife haven’t done much to push Josiah to achieve goals related to his interest in flight, and that everything Josiah has achieved has been because of his own self-interest.
As a 15-year-old, Josiah started the process toward earning a private pilot’s license by completing a written test that asked questions about FAA regulations and plane flying procedures.
Then, at 16, the plane enthusiast took his first run in a plane by himself, something he said was both thrilling and also somewhat scary.
“As I pulled the nose wheel off and the airplane lifted into the air, I had a very strange revelation, you might say,” Josiah said. “All I could think was, ‘you’re a 16-year-old kid and you think you’re going to fly this airplane and you are the only person in the world who can get it back down on the ground.’”
But Josiah did get the plane back on the ground, and was then ready for the next step toward getting his license.
The achievement of a private pilot’s license was an exciting thing for Josiah once he achieved it, but the high school student said he didn’t earn the designation with the greatest of ease.
There were many components of the test run that the high school junior had to demonstrate proficiency in before he could get a passing score. Sometimes he had to fly the plane while only looking at its instrument panel in order to simulate times of cloudy weather when visibility would be low; other times he would have to put the plane in steep banks and demonstrate that he could keep it at certain altitudes while doing that.
But perhaps one of the biggest hurdles for Josiah to overcome was that he only had two weeks to practice with some of the equipment on board the plane, according to his father.
Shawn said Josiah had limited time to practice with the equipment because the plane he would normally take in practice runs had been involved in an accident when another pilot had taken it for a run.
So Josiah was faced with the decision of whether to wait until after his 17th birthday to earn his pilot’s license or practice with a plane he wasn’t familiar with.
The other plane was still a Cessna 172 – with four seats and a single engine – but there were some features and buttons that weren’t the same on that plane as compared with the one Josiah was used to.
But Josiah opted to go with the different plane, practicing every day for two weeks to make sure he felt comfortable with it when test time came, according to Shawn.
“He made the decision, and we made it happen so that he could learn that avionic system,” Shawn said.
Now that Josiah has his license, he’s looking toward the future. He said that after he graduates he hopes to attend the United States Air Force Academy and that he would like to one day be a pilot for the United States Air Force.
Other than that, he said, the future is still unclear.
“It’s difficult to predict what’s going to be going on then,” he said. “I personally believe that pilots are going to be needed for a long time, so hopefully I’ll be able to maintain a career in aviation since that’s really what I love.”