'When you're up there you can see everywhere'
June 12, 2008 · Updated 10:09 AM
"Ryan Russell, who recently turned 16, doesn't have his driver's license, yet. But who needs to drive when he can fly?Russell piloted his first solo flight Sept. 25 - also his birthday - at the Bremerton National Airport to the cheers of a large group of people he didn't expect to see there.You'd think Charles Lindbergh just flew in, said his father, Scott Russell.He landed a white and blue Piper Cherokee 140 - a small-ish propeller craft with wings set low on the fuselage - on the runway and taxied up to the airport.His thin frame eclipsed by the machinery around him, Russell looked perplexed as he waved at the crowd gathered on the ramp. His instructor, Ryan Campbell, climbed out and Russell scooted the seat forward and started the propeller.He taxied out to the runway and lifted off to execute three touch-and-gos before landing for good. When he exited the Piper, he threw his arms in the air.It was a rush. It was exciting, he said. I was pretty nervous, though, because I didn't expect that many people there. But it was OK once I got in the air.Russell decided he wanted to fly when he was 3 years old. A friend, Doug Hotten, took him up for his birthday.He started taking lessons when he was 9 from instructor Kerri Ballard at the Boeing National Airport.When he was 9 years old he had to have phone books under him, said his grandfather, George Russell. He was flying before he could drive.Now that he's 16, he can fly solo. When he turns 17, he can get his pilot's license allowing him to take other people up with him. Russell said he wasn't thinking about too many things during the flight. I was hoping I wasn't going to mess up; I was pretty much thinking about taking off and landing. He added he was also thinking about what he was going to say to everybody.When he was first learning, he said, he had to refer frequently to the checklist to make sure he was doing everything he was supposed to. While he still always uses the checklist, Now I just look down and make sure I'm there. I've got it down now. I do it by instinct, he said.Russell said he's not afraid of flying. When you're up there, you can see everywhere. It feels really cool in the air. It's different.A sophomore at North Mason High School, he also enjoys playing computer games and riding his dirt bike, though he said he's not much into competition. He's not that interested in sports.I drive fast, but I don't race, he said. I don't really like trying to beat people at stuff, I guess. I do what I want to do. "