(L-R) Millersville twins Glen and Andy Atwood celebrated their 16th birthday with their first solo flight from Tipton Airport at Fort Meade, cutting their shirttails to signify the completion of their training.
Atwood Twins Celebrate 16th Birthday On A Higher Plane
Flying solo before driving solo? For the Atwood twins, Andy and Glen of Shipley’s Choice, the first time alone behind the wheel came on their 16th birthday, a thousand feet above their home in Anne Arundel County. “Boring is not a way this 16th-year birthday party could be described,” their father, Bill Atwood, highlighted.
Rising at the crack of dawn on Sunday, August 18, Andy and Glen had to be driven to Tipton Airport in Fort Meade by their father, a captain for American Airlines. In Maryland, the earliest a teenager can drive a car is at age 16 years and 6 months. But these intrepid twins were unfettered by state highway laws. They were destined for a 120mph date with a Cessna 172 Hawk XP, a single-engine, fixed-wing plane known as the most successful mass-produced light aircraft in aviation history.
“At times leading up to their first solo flight, I would get emotional,” added Bill Atwood. “As a father, I would get a lump in my throat. It’s a lot of responsibility and it takes a lot of skill and practice.”
A coin flip decided that Andy would fly first. After a test flight with dad, who served as the boys’ official instructor, Andy climbed into the cockpit alone to test his aeronautical skills against a gray August sky. Andy’s takeoff was flawless. On the ground below, about 12 friends from Severna Park High School watched with excitement. “The Cessna took off and climbed a lot faster than I was expecting,” Andy recalled.
From takeoff to touchdown, each solo flight lasted about eight minutes. In true military fashion, each brother repeated each flight three times to establish the intricacies of flight in their minds. When it came time for Glen Atwood to take his turn, the sheer joy of flying was readily apparent. “It kind of felt like driving a go-cart with a lot of power,” he exclaimed.
Following a longstanding aviation tradition, Andy and Glen sealed their stance as solo airmen by cutting off the backs of their T-shirts. Bill Atwood explained that in the earlier days of flight school, budding pilots and their instructors sat tandem – student in front, instructor behind – and a tug on the pilot-in-training’s shirt signified which way he or she needed to fly. Cutting the shirttail designated the student no longer needed direction from his instructor to fly safely. In honor of that custom, Andy and Glen’s shirttails were trimmed to signify they were officially masters of the sky.
But the path to becoming a pilot is not all thrills and chills. To be a pilot in the Washington, D.C., area in 2013, a person must follow special training and awareness procedures. Moreover, the Atwood boys have accumulated more than 400 hours of flight time each since they were children. They’ve traveled to Massachusetts, Florida, Wisconsin and the Bahamas, with their pilot father in the co-pilot seat.
“I’m enormously proud for their accomplishment,” lauded Bill. “They performed extremely well in their first solo all by themselves.”
When it comes to future plans, Glen wants to be a commercial pilot for a major airline and follow in his dad’s footsteps. Andy wants to keep his options open but looks to continue accumulating ratings and experience. Ultimately, both brothers want to obtain a private pilot’s license and continue with advanced ratings.
"It was a unique experience, seeing a friend fly a whole plane solo,” recalled Chloe Bielski, a senior at SPHS. “It was even worthy of getting up early on a weekend morning."
Added senior Matt Linehan, "It was really amazing, seeing a couple of friends achieve their goal of flying a plane."