Life goals taking off

One student’s journey to his private pilot’s license


Pat Maizo

NPHS senior David Sack shows off his student pilot’s license.

Jonathan Dekleva, Editor-In-Chief

Senior David Sack flew an airplane by himself for the first time this month. 

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there were nearly 1200 active student pilots in Nebraska. Sack is one of them. He is learning to fly this year and hopes to be a licensed pilot by 2021. 

Senior David Sack poses with flying instructor Robert Kilmer holding the back of his shirt. Kilmer carried out a pilot’s tradition of cutting off Sack’s shirttail after his first solo flight. (Photo Courtesy David Sack)

Sack said his first solo landing on Oct. 10 was not his best, but the other four were the best he had ever done. “ I greased every one of them,” he said. “They were smooth.”

Sack has wanted to be a professional pilot since he was a child. “We lived close to an airport; and so the C-130s would fly over our house,” he said. 

Sack is a senior, but only 16.  His age has hindered his progress. “You can’t [fly] solo until you’re 16, and [you] can’t get your private pilot’s license until you’re 17,” he said. 

Last summer, he was excited to get a full-ride scholarship to learn to fly at the Civil Air Patrol Flight Academy in North Dakota. Then COVID-19 cancelled it. “They offered virtual ground training, for free. After ground training, you would take the written test.” Sack said.

There are hour requirements for each student before they can attain their private pilot’s license. “You have to have a minimum of 20 hours with an instructor, 10 hours solo, and 10 hours either/or,” he said.

Sack holds up the back of his shirt, which has the words “David Wellnitz First Solo” (Photo Courtesy David Sack)

Training to be a pilot is expensive. Sack evaluated several area instructor

programs and costs, eventually deciding to learn to fly with Robert Kilmer in Valentine. 

Each lesson costs about $140 per hour for flight instruction, airplane use, and fuel. To cover the costs, he said he worked two jobs over the summer to save for the instruction. “I did that over the summer and built up my money, so I could do it all at once,” he said.

Sack is a member of the United States Civil Air Patrol (CAP), which has helped keep his dream alive. “We take tests based off of aerospace modules, parts of an aircraft, the aerodynamics of flying, so it kind of instills in our minds what it is and how it works,” he said. “It helps us further our careers.”

Now that Sack has soloed, he will continue training in Valentine until he can finish his certification.  He isn’t stopping with the license.  He plans to pursue a college degree in aviation and try to buy his own plane.  He has started a GoFundMe page with a $25,000 goal.

A photo of the sunrise Sack snapped from is car on the way to the Valentine airport the day of his first solo flight. (Photo Courtesy David Sack)