By Kayla Floyd
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, and well … it’s a glider. And the pilot? Well, that is 14-year-old Riley Speidel. This year at AirVenture we are happy to welcome Riley Speidel, who is known for her recent solo glider flight across the United States. Let’s also remember that FAA rules require a glider pilot only needs to be 14 to fly a glider solo, which made this feat possible, and for Riley, only a week after she turned 14.
“My first AirVenture was when I was 8 weeks old,” said Riley. “I
have been coming here ever since. I love the air shows and being able to talk
to other aviators who helped us plan my own flight. I’m happy to be in Oshkosh
Riley’s father, Jake Speidel, who accompanied her by flying
behind her on the flight, added, “Our whole family has a passion for aviation.
My mother met my father because he was her flight instructor.”
Jake was instrumental in Riley preparing for her trip. “We
planned for about two years for the trip. We also practiced flying in windy
conditions to be ready for anything. I think it is very important right now to
inspire the youth in aviation.”
Riley departed at 1:30 p.m. on June 7, 2019, and embarked on her
3,300-mile journey. She started her flight at Marina, California, and ended in
Sanford, Maine. Along the way, Riley stopped at multiple aviation youth groups
to talk about her flight and to inspire other people to chase their dreams.
Seeing the push that EAA has done for young aviators inspired
Riley when she realized she wanted to help. “We were able to see the issue of
youth not being as involved, and I knew I wanted to do something,” she said.
“We knew we wanted to do a fun flight back to our hometown in
Maine, but we wanted to also have a way to get other kids interested and
inspired,” Jake said. “A lot of people don’t even know that you can solo a
glider at 14. I loved being able to talk to kids and show them what they are
able to do now before they are old enough to get their pilot certification.”
Riley also said that she was getting some feedback on social
media, including people with questions. “A lot of people were commenting,
asking how I was able to do that, or if I was even in a different country that
allows it. I was able to tell people, ‘Nope! It’s because it’s a glider that I
can do this.’”
Jake flew behind Riley during her flight and said he was
unconcerned about her because of her poise throughout the journey. “I wasn’t
ever worried about her; she was always really cool and calm,” Jake said. “We
did have to make some adjustments due to wind and such, but Riley made all of
the decisions. We also had prepped so long for it that it felt like a piece of
cake, which was the point. It’s been amazing to spend so much time together. There
were 100 hours of training we completed, and now we get to share this passion.
I love that I am able to spend this time with my daughter.”
The flight path also had some hidden meaning for Riley. She
actually grew up in Sanford, Maine, and it was double the excitement for Riley
not only to finish her trip, but also get a chance to see her elementary
friends and family when she landed.
Aviation runs in the Speidel family blood and the support for Riley’s flight was unwavering. After flying in her glider on Thursday she is ready for a week of AirVenture fun. Riley will be at the Soaring Society of America booth and the Pipistrel USA sites over EAA AirVenture. Drop by and say hello to Riley and Jake, and get inspired by their love for aviation!