Aberdeenshire teen, Finn Hilton, made history during the Coronovirus (COVID-19) lockdown by becoming Scotland’s youngest solo pilot, making his first solo flight on his 14th birthday.
Finn, from Methlick, started flying at age 12 when he joined the Junior Training Scheme of Deeside Gliding Club (DGC) in Aboyne. With over 50 launches under his belt, his instructors were in no doubt that he was ready to fly solo, but he wasn’t legally allowed to until he turned 14.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the club had to close for several months, so Finn was unable to continue flying. When the sport could return, strict protocols had to be put in place due to the challenges of having two people in close proximity in a glider cockpit. The club worked hard on their guidance, and with suitable masks for both pilots, ventilation, cockpit cleaning between flights, and socially distanced briefings, flights could resume.
Finn flew with his volunteer instructor, David Innes, on his first flight after the six-month hiatus. David said: “It was as if he hadn't had a break. Within a few flights he was ready.”
David added: “We’d all been watching the weather forecast nervously the week before, hoping the conditions would be suitable for a flight on his birthday, and luckily it was fine.”
At 10.40 Finn was towed up to 2,000ft and flew for 20 minutes before making a perfect landing.
Finn, who had always dreamt of flying as a child, was exhilarated “It was great to be back flying again after lockdown, made even better by getting to go solo on my birthday. There is nothing I like more than flying, it’s really amazing to be able to soar above the Cairngorm Mountains.”
Finn’s achievement made the local and national media and inspired another schoolboy to follow in Finn’s footsteps. Sebastian Arijs joined the club just before his 14th birthday and nine weeks later, made his own maiden solo flight.
To encourage more young people to take up the sport, DGC sponsors junior pilots through their subsidised training scheme, with role models like Finn and Sebastian, the sky’s the limit.
David reflected on this year’s challenges: “Operating under COVID-19 restrictions has its challenges, but provided you follow the guidance and can travel to your club, with a bit of flexibility, you can still achieve your goals.”