Among the Clouds: Cowdrey takes flight towards pilot license


Senior Haden Cowdrey is learning to pilot the the 1979 Cessna 172.

Written by Ajay Nair and Yazan Abuashour

Senior Haden Cowdrey steps into the cockpit of a 1979 Cessna 172, preparing for another takeoff. After obtaining takeoff clearance from the tower, Cowdrey taxis the plane to the start of the runaway to give himself more room to accelerate. He switches the flaps to zero degrees, as he applies power and releases the brakes once the RPM is in the green zone. Keeping the plane centered in the runway, he sets the flaps to the takeoff position at about 20 percent rotational speed. Once the speed is reached, Cowdrey pulls back on the yoke. The plane moves down the runway, picking up speed, and lifts off the ground. Takeoff.

Cowdrey’s passion for becoming a pilot started during his childhood.

“I honestly can’t remember when my love for aviation began,” he said.. “While most kids were watching cartoons when they were little, my favorite shows were documentaries about aerial warfare on the history channel. Something about being among the clouds and being thousands of feet over the surface of the Earth just intrigues me.”

Early exposure to flight made an impression on Cowdrey.

“My biological dad has always had a big influence on me in becoming a pilot, since he was a pilot as well. When I was a little kid he always took me to airshows and flight museums,” he said. “My love for aviation is still a strong burning passion and something I want to do for the rest of my life.”

However, becoming a pilot is no easy task. Flying a plane while just holding altitude, airspeed, and heading, which is called cruising, is nice and relaxing, according to Cowdrey. However, performing aerial maneuvers and landing the airplane involves a lot of multitasking, concentration, quick decisions, and finesse. A landing pattern involves the plane starting parallel to the runway, and the pilot talking to air traffic control and watching out for any traffic. The pilot next makes two descending turns while adjusting the main controls, checking the carburetor heat, changing the throttle and flaps to slow the airplane, and then gently aligning the airplane over the runway. At the same time, the pilot has to fight any wind pushing him off course and gently touch the airplane on the surface of the runway on the back wheels.

Cowdrey wasn’t alone on his journey to flight school. College and Career teacher Tommy Miller, Cowdrey’s stepfather, has been supporting his ambition since the beginning.

“He wanted to be a pilot since kindergarten… He’s always been fascinated with combat and military history and aircrafts,” Miller said.

Cowdrey hopes that all his training will help him get into the Navy.

“Navy pilots are known for being the best of the best….My biggest fear is the huge amount of stress that involves carrier operations,” he said. “For example, a Navy pilot has to land a several-million-dollar jet on a moving ship with a 300-foot runway while precisely aiming for four arresting wires while going around 120 knots. That is extremely difficult in good conditions and then becomes even more difficult while at night with wind, a bucking ship in the waves, in a thunderstorm while low on fuel.”

There are several steps ahead before Cowdrey can pursue his dream.

“After earning my pilot’s license, I will keep flying as much as I can while pursuing an instrument rating and multi-engine rating [flying different types of planes]. Making flying a hobby early on while still in high school and college will better prepare me for Naval Aviation training after college,” he said.

Miller said Cowdrey has worked hard to save money, pay for lessons, and learn to fly.

“I am proud of him for being responsible. I am proud of him for working hard towards a goal. I am proud of him for pursuing his dream and what he wants to do, and for developing a skillset that exciting and marketable,” he said “He’s done everything he has to do to get this opportunity.”

Haden is determined to achieve his goal.

“Every little kid wants to be a pilot at some part in their life but moves on to other things. However with me, my love for aviation is still a strong burning passion and something I want to do for the rest of my life,” he said.