Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Reach for the sky

Ulster teen to fly solo ... a year before she qualifies to drive a car

An Ulster teenager will make her first solo flight as a pilot next month - a year before she is entitled to drive a car.

Shannon O' Neill (15) from Holywood - who is currently the youngest pilot in training in the UK - hopes to go solo for the first time on October 3, the day of her 16th birthday.

The Co Down teenager has already clocked up 26 of the 40 hours required flying time to hold a private pilot's licence and she also recently passed her aviation law exam.

Speaking last night, Shannon said that her ambition is to have her pilot's licence on her 17th birthday - on the day she is eligible to use her provisional driving licence.

"After next month I'll be able to take a plane up on my own, so I'm very excited," she said.

"You need to have 20 flying hours in total before you go solo and you have to pass a medical and an aviation law exam.

"I've done all that, so now I just have to wait until I turn 16.

"I need to complete 40 hours flying and sit another six exams before I'm allowed to get a licence, so my aim is to work hard next summer to achieve that."

High-flying Shannon, who is a fifth year pupil at Our Lady And St Patrick's College, Knock, said that she became hooked on the idea last summer.

"I was coming back from a family holiday in Italy when I looked in to the cockpit and it fascinated me," she explained.

"Then my dad booked me a taster lesson and that was it. We took a pleasure ride into Belfast and I really enjoyed it. I was hooked.

"It's not that scary. Sometimes I am a bit nervous, but it's more of a huge adrenaline rush. I am really looking forward to being up there on my own."

Shannon said that when she first took to the skies she was subjected to some strange looks at Newtownards Flying Club, where she is a member.

"It's a male-dominated sport," she said.

"There are a lot of men in their 50s at the club so I turn a lot of heads when I'm down there. They probably think 'What is the dollybird doing here?'

"All the instructors are really helpful and really good. I haven't had any hairy moments or near misses or anything; it's very well supervised."

Shannon said that her parents Jennifer (47) and Tom (52), both retired teachers, have always encouraged her and her two sisters Lara (14) and Sencha (11) to follow their dreams.

"Lara has just had her first flying lesson, so there could end up being a few pilots in the family," she added.

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