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Soaring to new heights

East Ridge High School junior Morgan Maxwell received her private pilot's license Nov. 7 at the Lake Elmo Airport.

Letting their children hit the open road can be scary enough for most parents, but hitting the skies?

Woodbury residents Becky and Jim Maxwell not only have to worry about their daughter in the car but up in the air as well. The Maxwells' daughter Morgan, a junior at East Ridge High School, received her private pilot's license last week on her 17th birthday.

"We're actually more concerned about her driving," Jim Maxwell said. "She has a natural aviation talent."

Morgan took her private pilot's license exam Nov. 7 at the Lake Elmo Airport.

Taking flight

Morgan began taking flying lessons in May of 2010 after having grown up with a father, a grandfather and an uncle who are all pilots.

"She comes from a good lineage in the pilot world," Becky said.

Jim said he allowed Morgan to take flying lessons because it was a great opportunity to teach her responsibility and maturity as well as learn the ins and outs of plane mechanics and weather.

"You become a more rounded individual because of it," he said.

Last fall she made her first solo flight, so she said she decided to just keep going to get her private pilot's license.

"I was already like halfway there and I just wanted to keep going since I really enjoy it," she said.

In order to even qualify for her license, Morgan had to complete 40 hours of flight time, 10 hours of solo time, five hours of cross country flight, three hours of night flight and 10 night landings.

Becky said the cross country flight, from Lake Elmo to Winona to Eau Claire, Wis., and back was the most nerve-wracking experience for her.

"You know she can do it, but you're helpless," she said. "I would not let her get in the car and drive three hours down to Winona, but I'm letting her get up in an airplane and fly down there - am I crazy?"

During her licensure exam Morgan had to go through both an oral exam and a flight exam.

"I was tested on all the things you need to know as a pilot," she said. "They want to see how you handle the plane."

Morgan said she didn't feel that the test was that difficult.

"I've been doing this for a year and a half, so the flight test wasn't that big of a deal," she said. "This is what I've been doing the whole time - it just comes natural to me."

Like father,like daughter

Morgan said she decided to follow in her father's footsteps because she loves to travel.

"I love traveling, I love seeing the world," she said, "and I love doing new things."

Becky and Jim said they are proud Morgan has chosen to follow in that lifestyle.

"I keep telling her she should be a dentist, but she doesn't seem to want to be a dentist," Jim said. "I feel like I'm pretty lucky. Where she takes this is her choice, not ours."

Becky said it seems to be those who grow up with a lifestyle of traveling tend to gravitate in that direction.

"The more places you go, it broadens your circle," she said.

Quite an accomplishment

Last year alone, only 1,000 private pilot's licenses were awarded in Minnesota, so the fact that a 17-year-old girl passed it on her first try is a pretty impressive feat, said Jim, a commercial pilot for Delta Airlines.

In fact, Jim said he knows plenty of adults who have taken their private pilot's license exam multiple times and have still yet to pass.

"You don't see a lot of kids this young doing this," Jim said. "I don't think she even realizes how big of a deal it was."

Jim said there are probably only a few hundred teenagers in the country with their pilot's licenses.

In addition to being in the minority in terms of her age, Jim said Morgan is also in the minority being a female pilot.

To put things in perspective, Jim said, there are 13,000 pilots at Delta Airlines and only 400 are women.

Going for her license was a big commitment on Morgan's part since she would spend four days a week at the airport practicing in addition to school, homework, flight studies, athletics and a part-time job.

"She's been burning the candle at both ends," Becky said. "You really have to have the passion for it."

Morgan said she was able to accomplish everything simply because it was so important to her.

"I knew what I had to do to get everything done," she said. "That's what keeps me going."

The next step for Morgan would be to test for her instrument rating, which would allow her to fly in inclement weather conditions and through clouds.

But, for the time being she said she wants to just enjoy having her pilot's license.

In the long run, flying could be a career.

"I'm kind of excited to keep going," she said. "Having my private pilot's license is fun, but I am excited to do something else."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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