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Naperville teen gets driver’s license, makes first solo flight on same day

16 year old Zack Baiocchi Naperville is congratulated by flying instructor Bob Eckhoff after completing passing test get his solo

16 year old Zack Baiocchi of Naperville is congratulated by flying instructor Bob Eckhoff after completing and passing the test to get his solo flying certification at the Aurora Municpal Airport on Thursday, November 29, 2012. Baiocchi got his driving license earlier that day as well. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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While getting a driver’s license is a rite of passage on a 16th birthday, Zach Baiocchi set his sights higher.

On Thursday, the Neuqua Valley High School sophomore went to the DMV to get his driver’s license and in the afternoon took his first solo flight over the skies of the Aurora Municipal Airport in a 4-seater Cessna 172R Skyhawk.

He’s now old enough to drive alone and fly solo.

Robert Eckhoff, chief flight instructor at Lumanair Aviation Services based at the airport, said the teen was ready to solo his first flight eight months ago, but 16 is the minimum age to earn a student pilot’s license.

“He’s exceptional for his age,” the flight instructor said.

Eckhoff said the young pilot began training at age 13, has earned 66 hours of flight training and completed more than 200 take-offs and landings. He got his first flight simulator at age 9.

Eckhoff, who has four decades as a FAA licensed and certified flight instructor, said many of his students have pursued military and civilian aviation careers. He said it is rare in the aviation world to hear about people getting a student pilot’s license at an early age.

“When he walked in the door he already knew the terminology, logic that goes into the types of maneuvers and emergency procedures,” Eckhoff said. “Talking on the radio he was almost a pro. I had to break him down like the Marine Corps and rebuild him, he was talking a little fast.”

Zach’s parents said his passion for aviation began at a young age.

“Zach’s interest in things that go began when he was a toddler,” Mary Baiocchi said.

The mother said her son and Eckhoff have a “bond” on the tarmac and they are grateful for the aeronautical knowledge and experience he has shared. Baiocchi admits her son’s goal for his 16th birthday has been a tad unnerving, but she’s seen his confidence in those practice sessions to convince her he’ll be a proficient solo pilot.

Although he’s restricted to fly within the “Class Delta” airspace or from taking passengers and flying at night, Zach said he has waited for this day.

“The anticipation of this day has kept me motivated,” he said.

He anticipated the pre-solo flight moments like the feelings one has in giving a speech for the first time. Flying takes coordination and multi-tasking, he said.

“Once you get your driver’s license you have the freedom to go where you want and flying can get you there three times as fast,” he said.

Zach has set his sights on the next stage of flying: earning a private pilot’s license for when he is 17. He is interested in pursuing a career as a commercial airlines pilot.

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