BHS sophomore Stanley soars above the typical teenage experience


Photo provided by the family of Sarah Stanley

Bearden sophomore Sarah Stanley has completed her first solo flight, a big step toward formally earning her pilot’s license.

At 16 years old, most high school students anxiously await getting their driver’s licenses.

While her friends were driving by themselves for the first time, sophomore Sarah Stanley had her head in the clouds – literally – and became the first Bearden student to take a solo flight.

To reiterate, Stanley can fly planes by herself.

At 16.

And that may not even be the craziest part. She began her journey of learning to fly at 12 years old. When some students were spending their afternoons on the playground, Stanley had a view of them from a pilot’s chair.

Stanley does not come from an aviation family by any means. She found her passion for flying by pure chance.

“The first people I ever flew with, [I] met in an antique store,” Stanley said. 

When she was 12, she went into an antique shop on a Saturday afternoon. After striking up a conversation with a stranger and expressing her interest in planes, he offered to take her on her first flight.

After that, she was hooked.

Stanley joined the SKY program, which provides middle and high school students with an opportunity to develop advanced aviation and mechanical skills.

“Right now, we are rebuilding a Cessna 172,” Stanley said. “We are learning how to weld and rivet, which is really fun.”

In the professional world, aviation and mechanics are typically male-dominated fields, something that Stanley has had to get used to over the last three years.

“I am one of the only girls in my mechanics program, which is kind of cool,” Stanley said. “I’ve had experiences where men are surprised that I am learning how to fly planes.”

Stanley has a great support system through her mechanics program, making all of the hard work easier.

“All of the pilots have become like my grandpas and uncles, and they make sure that I get where I need to,” she said. “They are all just so sweet.”

Though Stanley just took her first solo flight, she is nowhere near done yet. If teens thought getting a driver’s license was hard, they have no idea what Stanley has gone through.

“If you are after the age of 17, you can do this in less than a year, but since I started when I was 12, I had to wait until I was 16 to be able to solo,” Stanley said. “Soloing is where you are able to fly by yourself for the first time, and that’s like your permit.

“From there, you have to have 10 hours of solo, time at night, time in an air traffic controlled airport, and after that, you take your written test, which is kind of like you have a written permit test. After that you are able to check ride, which is like a driver’s license road test. After that you are able to fly where you want to and take people with you.”

From her success in the air, Stanley has obtained a scholarship through the FLIGHT Foundation, which is recognized as one of the best aviation programs in the nation and a Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame program. 

Though she is just a sophomore, Stanley knows that flying will be a part of her future. Her goal right now is to be a commercial pilot for corporations and for passengers.

But before that, she wants to get her driver’s license – the one for cars.

“I paid too much attention to flying,” Stanley said, “and then I realized that I was 16 and I could get my license.”