Toledo Teen Completes First Solo Flight in 1946 Aeronca Champ


By Emily Fitzgerald / [email protected]

Sam Rinker flies with his right hand to his father Kraig for as long as he can remember. But last month the 16-year-old flew alone for the first time: an important milestone for every budding pilot who is working towards his pilot’s license.

“It was a bit nerve-wracking, but at the same time very exciting and it was a lot of fun. It’s like comparing it to driving your car on your own for the first time and having that feeling of freedom, ”said Rinker.

While Rinker didn’t think twice about learning to fly in a 1946 Aeronca Champ that his father bought before Rinker began his flight training, his family later learned that the two-wheeled landing gear of the Champ’s tailwheel was located near the aircraft’s center of gravity was designed and a third wheel in the rear made it more difficult for new pilots to learn.

Rinker’s mother went home after Rinker’s solo flight to do research and found only three other 16-year-olds in the U.S. who had completed their first solo flight with a tailwheel.

“The flying tail wheel is all I know,” said Rinker. “Every plane I’ve been on since I can remember has always been a tailwheel.”

Most student pilots are encouraged to study in a three-wheeler airplane that has the third wheel in the nose instead of the tail.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the “tri-gear” or “nose wheel” design allows the pilot more visibility on the runway and more stability in cross winds. The tail wheel or “Taildragger” design, on the other hand, “is less forgiving of pilot errors when it comes into contact with the ground” and is more likely to be influenced by crosswinds during takeoff and landing.

“I’ve heard it’s way harder than flying a tri-gear, but it’s just second nature to me because it’s all I’ve ever done,” said Rinker.

Rinker’s father actually bought and sold the champ, which Rinker learns to fly several times before buying it for Rinker’s flight training.

“He checked a number of planes to say the least,” said Rinker.

Now that his first solo flight is complete, Rinker is getting used to flying solo and logging hours for the cross-country flight requirements of a pilot’s license.

However, he does not expect a career as a pilot. As a sophomore at Toledo High School, Rinker said he wanted to go to class after graduation. “That’s my mother’s job, being a teacher, and it seems like I’m good with children and good at helping people. That’s what I want to pursue when I grow up.”