Fifteen-year-old Kensington Hewson — “or Kensie for short” — may not be old enough to drive a car but she can fly a plane.
Hewson has been training for the past year and a half at Vernon’s Aurora Aviation and on Tuesday, Aug. 4, she passed her test to obtain a recreational pilot’s licence — which will be issued when she turns 16 this Thursday (Aug. 13).
“Flying is pretty different than driving,” she said. “Except for watching out for other traffic.”
Hewson’s not so worried about getting her L after obtaining her pilot’s licence.
“It feels like nothing now compared to this,” she said of the driving exam. “I just picked up my L book today (Aug. 10), I haven’t even started studying yet and my test is in three days.
“We’ll see how it goes,” she said with a laugh.
Hewson is no stranger to airplanes or the life of a pilot. Flying is in her genes.
“My dad is a pilot and my grandpa and dad’s uncle are both commercial pilots,” Hewson said. “And my great grandfather was a pilot in the Air Force.”
But she didn’t know she could obtain her licence so young until a friend of hers went through the process.
“I went on a familiarization flight, which all flight schools do, you go up for half an hour to see what it’s like,” Hewson said. “So I did that and went from there.”
She said she doesn’t recall much about that first flight, but she does remember feeling nervous.
“I was mostly concerned because I haven’t been in a small plane since I was really little,” she said.
But she persevered and went on more flights after that and knew she wanted to get her licence.
Hewson completed a written and in-flight exam and completed around 60 hours of flight training — nearly 20 hours more than required.
“At the same time, you have to do some sort of online course or some school,” she said.
Hewson can go for her private pilot’s licence (PPL) when she’s 17 years old. One requirement is a 150-nautical-mile cross-country flight.
“You’re not allowed to use a GPS or anything,” Hewson said. “It’s all done by map reading and this flight computer thing we have.”
At Aurora, students seeking the PPL take off in Vernon, taxi off the runway in Kamloops and fly to Penticton before following Okanagan Lake back to Vernon.
Hewson has already attempted this with her instructor, Claudio. And she said she is aiming to do it solo sometime in September, although, she admits, she’s not “amazing” at reading maps.
The Clarence Fulton Secondary School student, who is entering Grade 11, has the next decade mapped out already.
“After Grade 12, I want to be a military pilot,” Hewson said. “I want to apply for the Canadian Armed Forces and go into a program called ROTP. I’d go to the Royal Military College in Ontario and I want to do a degree in mechanical engineering and do pilot training after that.
“If it all works out,” she said.
Besides from her young age and major accomplishments, Hewson said she is one of the only young women studying aviation at Aurora.
“At this flight school, there are only three girls,” she said. “Me and two other people, but there are definitely more guys than girls.”
But this is a statistic she sees changing.
“I think there’s definitely more,” she said of women’s growing interest in the field.
Hewson’s proud mother, Melissa Brown, said there are several scholarships and bursaries available for those keen on obtaining their licence, especially women.
Obtaining a pilot’s licence isn’t cheap, Brown and Hewson agreed. But for Brown, having her daughter learn to fly was equivalent to having a child in hockey.
“I didn’t really care if she took 100 hours to do it instead of 40 because she’s young and it’s keeping her busy,” Brown said. “But if you were to just go and sign up and get your private pilot’s licence, it would be around $15,000.”
A commercial licence would cost even more. Brown said with rentals, it would cost nearly $70,000.
Price tags aside, Hewson said she loves it.
“I like being able to go places quickly,” she said, pointing to a recent trip to Vancouver that took only an hour and a half.
She also loves to share the stunning views from above with close friends.
“I took my best friend up for her birthday, with my dad, and that was really cool to show her,” she said. “It’s really nice to do sightseeing, even just around Vernon.
“You never realize how many people have pools.”