Toledo Teen Completes First Solo Flight in 1946 Aeronca Champ


Sam Rinker has been flying right-hand to his dad, Kraig, for as long as he can remember. But last month, the 16-year-old flew solo for the first time: a major milestone for every budding pilot working toward their pilot’s license.

“It was a little nerve-wracking but also very exciting at the same time and it was very fun. It’s kind of like, I would compare it to getting to drive your car by yourself for the first time, having that sense of freedom,” said Rinker.

While Rinker didn’t think twice about learning to fly in a 1946 Aeronca Champ that his dad bought before Rinker started his flight training, his family later learned that the Champ’s “tailwheel” landing gear design, with two wheels near the plane’s center of gravity and a third wheel in the tail, made it trickier for new pilots to learn.

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

“Flying tailwheel is all I know,” Rinker said. “Every airplane I’ve been in since I can remember, it’s always been a tailwheel.”

Most flight students are encouraged to learn in a tricycle-gear aircraft, which has that third wheel in the nose instead of the tail.

The “tri-gear” or “nosewheel” design allows the pilot more visibility on the runway and more stability in the face of crosswinds, according to the the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The tailwheel or “taildragger” design, on the other hand, is “less forgiving of pilot error while in contact with the ground” and is more-likely to be affected by crosswinds during takeoff and landing.

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

Rinker’s dad actually bought and sold the Champ that Rinker is learning to fly several times before buying it for Rinker’s flight training.

“He’s gone through quite the collection of airplanes to say the least,” Rinker said.

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

He doesn’t anticipate a career as a pilot, however. A sophomore at Toledo High School, Rinker said he wants to go into teaching after he graduates. “That’s my mom’s profession, is being a teacher, and it seems like I’m good with kids and I’m good at helping people so that’s what I want to pursue when I grow up.”