Wisconsin Teen Flies Solo in Plane She Built

Admin Airplanes, Pilot Training

Last month, Danielle Olson, 16, took to the skies for her first solo flight.

It was a remarkable feat made only more impressive by the fact that Danielle had built the plane herself. Taking off from the Menomonie Municipal Airport in Dunn County, Wisconsin, Danielle guided the two-seat aircraft through some initial turbulence until she was comfortably cruising high above Menomonie. “My nerves started to dissipate as I focused on the task at hand. Right after taking off, I was so relieved and happy. It was an incredible feeling. I realized that flying by myself wasn’t much different and I did everything I would normally do. A small patch of sun was shining through the clouds and I remember thinking, ‘This is amazing and I will be okay,’” said Danielle.

Danielle developed a passion for flying early on.

At 5, she would sit on her dad’s lap as he pointed to the screens of the family’s private plane and instructed her on how to navigate the aircraft. In the U.S., student pilots must be 16 to fly alone. The FAA stipulates that student pilots must take a test to demonstrate suitable aeronautical knowledge and take part in flight and safety training. Danielle’s flight training instructor was her dad, Tim, who ensured she met all of her piloting requirements before her sixteenth birthday. Last year, she logged nearly 25 hours of flight hours with Tim, yet they could not be applied to her certificate since he wasn’t a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). While Danielle prepared for the knowledge test, Tim studied for his CFI.

He earned his certification last January and Danielle became his first student.

“As soon as I got home, Danielle and I started logging time together. I started her from square one, going through every skill and maneuver. Wanting her to be completely comfortable in the airplane, no matter the situation, we even did spins together and she flew along for some aerobatic flights. Her comfort level was such that she really could have done just fine without much more instruction, but we hammered at everything, even some cross-country flights, to get her 80 percent of the way before she even soloed,” said Tim. When she was a child, Danielle and her sister Colleen travelled all fifty states, as well as the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Canada and Mexico in a four-seat plane built by Tim.

“She’s never known not flying,” said her mother, Andrea.

When it came time to build her own two-seater plane, Danielle and Tim invested up to 30 hours a week on the project, which proved challenging. “You couldn’t picture it at times. There are all these parts, and you couldn’t picture it as an actual thing you can fly,” said Danielle. The Olson’s finished the RV14, an American kit aircraft designed by Richard VanGrunsven for Van’s Aircraft, last June, and Danielle completed her training in the new plane. “I’ve flown in other planes, and it’s just another plane. But this one, I built. I riveted those rivets. It’s cool that I made a plane, and I’m flying it by myself,” said Danielle. Danielle would like to earn her private pilot license before she turns 17.

In Wisconsin, 3,409 people have active private pilot licenses, according to the FAA, yet Danielle will be only one of 195 women with the license.