Flight makes right

Sean Michael Knick II is at the controls of a Cessna 172SP before takeoff from Front Royal-Warren County Airport. Photo by Cindy Rodney.

Not every young man learns to fly before he learns to drive, but 16-year-old Washington resident Sean Michael Knick II has done just that.

A junior at Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal, Knick has been flying for more than a year in the academy’s flight program. He received his driver’s permit just last week.

Knick began at RMA in the summer of 2007, before the start of his eighth-grade year. His mom and dad, Debbie and Sean Knick, said they hoped the summer enrollment would give him a head start on classes for the following year.

Knick said he fell in love with the school so much that he told friends he not only was being taught academics but “core values” as well. His parents were impressed with the school and with their son’s progress over the summer. Debbie Knick remembers her son begging them to enroll him at RMA for the fall 2007 session.

“I came [to RMA] strictly for the academics,” Knick said. But the academy also offered baseball and golf, two sports he was interested in. Flying was not an activity that drew him to RMA initially, but it did catch his eye.

Just before Christmas 2009, Knick took his first flight with RMA flight instructor Ryan Koch. After that, he said, “I knew this is something unique. This is pretty cool.” That feeling was confirmed after he performed his first takeoff under Koch’s watchful eye.

Splitting his flight time between a Cessna 152 and a Cessna 172SP, Knick somehow managed to log flight hours in spite of his busy schedule (advanced placement courses, band, baseball, golf, drill team and Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps).

Then, on Jan. 24, he passed his pre-solo check flight at Front Royal-Warren County Airport.

“It was a little nerve-wracking at first, but I just set my mind to it,” Knick said. He said it wasn’t until he reached about 1,700 feet and had turned crosswind that he really noticed he was by himself.

“I wasn’t worried or anything. Even if something happened, I was trained to fix it,” said Knick. He stayed “in the zone” until he touched down on the pavement again. Then he did it again, and again, easily fulfilling the required three takeoffs and landings.

“As he came around for the first landing, I knew he would have no trouble because he was well prepared,” said Koch in a blog entry the next day. “I must say his first touchdown was awesome! The next two landings were also very well done.” Koch later said Knick has been “a real joy to fly with.”

His parents thought that because he never flew before, Knick would either love it or hate it. He loved it. “His enthusiasm for flying has driven him to keep his GPA at a 3.76,” said Debbie Knick, “while performing his duties as a master sergeant. In the core of cadets, you might say it’s his way of rewarding himself.

“Sean Michael’s passion for flight has been kindled by his flight instructor Ryan Koch,” she continued. “Sean and Ryan hit it off from day one. He has so much respect for Ryan, it’s awesome to see that bond and trust. When my son showed an interest in the flight program, I asked Ryan lots of questions, I probably drove him nuts. Ryan has been wonderful, he’s been so patient with a worried mom. He’s great!

“As parents we encourage Sean Michael to take advantage of all the opportunities that RMA offers; he has taken the ball and run with it,” his mom continued. “RMA has reinforced what as parents we have been telling him since childhood — life is all about choices and there are consequences both good and bad with each. RMA focuses on knowledge, character and leadership, in shaping the lives of our children. We have seen evidence of that in Sean Michael. He knows that being able to fly is not an entitlement, it’s a privilege.

“Sean Michael is learning one of life’s lessons: juggling responsibilities and being accountable for your actions.”

The Knicks, along with grandfather Clyde Pullen, say they are very proud of their son, as he discovers that hard work and doing the right things can bring rewards.