11:06 AM

Sweet 16 Solo -- N.C. Cadet Gains Wings on Birthday

Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Rylee Emaus.

Obtaining a driver’s license upon turning 16 is a long-awaited rite of passage for teens across the country … but not for Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Rylee Emaus.

“Who wants to drive a car when you can fly a plane?” quipped Emaus, a member of the North Carolina Wing’s Hickory Composite Squadron.

Instead of heading to the Department of Motor Vehicles, she marked her 16th birthday June 1 by earning her wings through the Asheville Composite Squadron's flight academy by completing her first solo flight.

Her love of aviation began at age 11 through flying a balsa wood airplane in her backyard. Inspired by the small toy, she set a goal to fly a real plane herself someday.

The next year she joined Civil Air Patrol to chase those dreams.

Emaus achieved soloed under the instruction of Lt. Col. Ray Davis of the Asheville squadron.

She remembers feeling a little nervous when she was sitting on the tarmac waiting for the all-clear to enter the runway. "Wow, I'm the only one in this plane,” she thought.

"But once I got the plane moving my muscle memory kicked in and it all just felt natural,” the cadet said.

Landing required the most focus, she said. "I kept hearing Col. Davis’ voice in my head” she said. “’Keep your nose up. You know what you’re doing.’”

"We are very proud of her accomplishments. She’s a pretty impressive 16-year-old,” said Senior Master Sgt. Mark Emaus, her father, the Hickory squadron’s emergency services training officer. “That doesn’t mean we aren’t a little apprehensive.”

Added her mother, 2nd Lt. Barbie Emaus, the squadron’s character development instructor, “We know Col. Davis wouldn’t let her go up if he wasn’t sure she was ready.

“I'm actually less worried about her flying than driving." she laughed. “There aren’t many things for her to hit up there.”

The cadet is now preparing to obtain her full FAA private pilot's certificate when she turns 17, the minimum age for doing so. She's also studying to receive her bachelor’s in aeronautics at Liberty University. After graduation, she hopes to fly for the Air National Guard and eventually gain some combat experience flying an elite fighter jet.

Emaus enjoys seeing the world from a different perspective while flying: “It’s totally different looking down on the world from up there. Peaceful.”

She encourages other young people with an interest in aviation to follow their dreams and work hard to achieve them.

“Don’t quit. Keep at it even when you don’t think you can,” Emaus said.

“But also be ready to work for it. Anyone can get there, but no one gets there by accident.”