Sun, 15 Nov 2020
A Burghclere teenager is believed to have become the youngest girl in the UK to fly a plane solo.
Downe House school pupil Catherine Skipworth enjoyed the first flight on her own on her 16th birthday, October 20 – a whole year before she can even drive a car.
She flew the Piper Warrior PA28-161 four-seater for around seven minutes, completing one circuit of White Waltham airfield before landing safely, much to the relief of her nervous mother Tina.
She beats the previous holder of the accolade, Ellie Carter from Devon, who flew solo just three days after her 16th birthday in January 2019.
Mrs Skipworth said: “It was all a bit touch-and-go whether she would be able to fly on her birthday, as you have to have the right weather.
“We were checking the weather all week and the forecast was horrendous, but at 9.30am it cleared and off she went.
“I don’t really like flying so it was terrifying for me to watch, but she loved it and she will carry on with her lessons now.”
Catherine, whose father Steve, uncle and godfather are all pilots, first flew in a light aircraft with her father four years ago and had her first lesson on her 15th birthday.
Her first instructor was the same man who had taught her father to fly years before.
But the coronavirus lockdown halted any further lessons until the end of July.
“She started lessons in the summer, but at least 50 per cent were cancelled because of bad weather and then one of her instructors had to self-isolate,” Mrs Skipworth said.
“The school have been great and have let her out at weekends and let her have the day off on her birthday so she could try to get the record.
“She had another lesson the week after her birthday and she went solo again.
“She would now like to get her Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL), but the earliest she can do that is her 17th birthday.”
The daring young aviator, who also enjoys aerobatics trips with her father, had to study air law and pass the flying school’s written tests before being allowed to take to the skies on her own.
She is now hoping to get some flying hours under her belt during the Easter and summer holidays next year, in preparation for her PPL as soon as she turns 17.