On June 17, the Daniel Boone High School graduate and student pilot became the second Boone student and first Marine Corps JROTC cadet to earn his “solo wings” in the FLIGHT Foundation’s High School Flight Program after taking off from the runway at Greeneville Airport piloting a Cessna 152.
After flying with his instructor and FLIGHT founder, Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Powley, this was the first time Hooper had flown a plane alone, without any assistance or guidance.
“It's extremely hard to put it into words. It was breathtaking and extraordinary,” Hooper said of his first solo flight. “While I was doing it, I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. It was a life-changing experience, and it felt so unreal — it was hard to believe I was actually doing it.”
Hooper said training with Powley ahead of the solo flight helped him fulfill a lifelong childhood dream. While many might expect to experience some apprehension during their first flight, Hooper said he felt at home in the cockpit. Once Hooper finally left the runway with his instructor, he said he was happy to be “living the dream.”
“Honestly, the first time we went into the air, I wasn’t as nervous as I was excited. I’ve wanted to be a pilot my entire life,” he said. “The fact that this program gave me an opportunity to fly an aircraft was phenomenal for me.”
Hooper’s goal is to continue on his path to obtain his private pilot’s license. As he gets set to attend college at Northeast State Community College before going on to East Tennessee State University, Hooper said he will continue his pilot training and look to join the Marine Corps as an aviator.
But whether he decides to stay in the military or return to civilian life, Hooper said he hopes to keep flying high.
“I want to stay in the Marines as long as I can. And maybe when I get done in the Marine Corps, I could fly with the hospital service as an EMS, a commercial airline or anything like that,” he said. “As long as I’m flying, I’m fine with it.
“Flying is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done, and I want to keep doing it for the rest of my life.”