For his 14th birthday, Carson Hannon got to see Niagara Falls. It was the second coolest thing he did May 15.
Earlier that day, Hannon flew an airplane — on his own. For more than three years, the Liberty Middle School student had been flying, but always with an experienced passenger aboard.
In the United States, a person who meets all FAA requirements must still be at least 16 to fly solo. However in Canada, the age limit is 14, so off Hannon went.
“It was fun. It was a new experience not having anyone in it,” Hannon said. “I’ve always had someone in the air to fall back on. But you have to call the shots when you’re by yourself.
“When you’re a pilot, you just have to, in case anything goes wrong, be able to not panic and find a solution.”
Fortunately, Hannon didn’t have to test his emergency preparedness skills, as his first solo flight went “pretty smooth.”
“I saw Niagara Falls and I got to fly out there and see a corner of the country I’ve really never seen before,” he said.
Hannon first discovered his need for speed as a toddler when his father got him a NASCAR go-cart.
“He drove that thing in between two full-size cars when he was 2,” said Jim Hannon, who added that his son can also drive a stick-shift and excels at flying RC planes.
“You could ask him when he was real small if he wanted to go to the zoo or Home Depot and he’d rather go to Home Depot,” he recalled. “So I’d take him over there and he could tell you what every tool was in that place.
“When he looks at something, he doesn’t just look at it and get a general idea, he picks up on all the little technical nuances with it.”
A former pilot for Eastern Airlines, the elder Hannon has kept his license up to date.
“I always thought if I had a son, I was going to teach him how to fly,” he said. “We bought a plane around the time he was about to turn 10.”
Jim Hannon began giving his son flying lessons on the family’s Beechcraft Bonanza. He took to it immediately.
Jimmy Garland, manager at the Cherokee County Airport also took notice.
“He’s a very astute young fellow,” he said, also noting the rareness of the 14-year-old’s recent feat. “I’ve been flying since 1980 and I’ve never seen or heard of anybody else doing that.”
Garland said Hannon’s youth may have helped him learn and retain information.
“At that age, they’re just like a sponge. They soak up the knowledge really fast,” he said. “Carson did exceptionally well.”
Looking back on when he first started flying, Carson Hannon noted the most difficult parts.
“After flying so long with my dad, I really learned everything. It was just all the paperwork to do it legally and follow all the rules and regulations,” he said.
The years of practice helped Carson Hannon preparation, but they also helped his mother, Lynn, have confidence in his ability.
“I’m not nervous when my son goes up, because it’s an every two-day thing,” she said. “… He catches on so quickly. To be 14, he can fly as well as any adult as far as I’m concerned.”
Carson Hanson is hoping airlines will feel the same way. Though he hasn’t reached high school, Hanson’s planning a career as an airline pilot, if not another aviation position.
That’s why he went to Canada at 14, instead of waiting another two years to fly in the United States.
“On your resume for an airline, it’s a real special deal to show them you’re really interested in flying and to prove that you tried to do it as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s just to show airlines and any possible employers what interests I have and what sets me out from the crowd.”