Senior pilot soars toward helicopter license

Looking down at the ground 1,000 feet below, the beams of light from the setting sun reflect off Monterey Bay’s stirring waters to create a scene unlike any other—John Fletcher, a senior at Carmel High School, describes this as one of the best moments he has experienced while flying.

Fletcher has been flying ever since he was 12, but since January, he has been working towards his private pilot’s license. Fletcher specializes in flying rotorcrafts or helicopters, and getting this license will allow him to fly whomever, whenever and wherever he chooses.

Student pilots like Fletcher account for only .01 percent of the United States’ population. In addition, he operates as a solo pilot. Together, these circumstances make him one of the youngest solo helicopter pilots in the nation.

Fletcher (left) flies over Monterey coast with instructor Paul Henrichsen (right).

Fletcher (left) flies over Monterey coast with instructor Paul Henrichsen (right).

“Flying is one of the best feelings,” Fletcher says. “Being the pilot in command of any aircraft is a great feeling, but floating in the air and being able to see and take yourself anywhere beats anything I have done.”

Fletcher usually flies out of the Watsonville Municipal Airport about once every two weeks. In recent weeks, however, Fletcher has increased his practice time as he trains for his license, flying out three times in the past week alone.

Regardless of his current license status, the piloting skills that Fletcher already holds are significant. Fletcher explains that the number of rotorcraft pilots in the United States is estimated at just under 35,000, revealing that this profession is in itself unique.

Achieving the rare status as a solo student pilot while also working toward an official license is not an easy task. Fletcher explains that as a student pilot, he will often have to train for emergency procedures that can occur in the air, some of which can be extremely stressful.

Attaining a helicopter license also requires a significant amount of work both on and off the ground. In addition to the necessary hours one must spend flying with an instructor, there is also a large amount of book knowledge required. Pilots are required to know and understand not only how to fly a helicopter, but also the physics and components of what makes it fly.

“Honestly, the hardest part about getting this license is the amount of book work that comes with it,” Fletcher says. “But it’s definitely worth it.”

Fletcher hopes to receive his license within the next two months, after he has completed more practice hours and has passed the set of written, oral and flight exams.

“Learning how to fly and working towards this license has been quite the experience, with both lows and highs,” Fletcher says. “I’m thankful that I have such a supportive family who is willing to make sacrifices for me to pursue this passion.”

Even though flying helicopters exists currently as a well-enjoyed hobby for Fletcher, he imagines that it could possibly become a part of his career. Looking ahead, he says that he could see himself either flying for the military or perhaps a private company.

Fletcher concludes that “if anyone has a slight interest in fixed wing or rotorcraft, I strongly urge them to try it out.”

-Jessica DiLullo