Teen flies Cessna across country alone
Ontario teenager Matthew Gougeon climbed out of his cockpit Thursday afternoon and possibly became the youngest pilot to fly solo across Canada.
On his incredible journey, Gougeon said he was awed by the Rocky Mountains, nervous when he skirted around Ontario lightning storms and felt vulnerable when, outside of Thunder Bay, a huge C-130 Hercules flew over his small Cessna 182.
“The rescue plane was on a training mission and they flew kind of close, about 1,000 feet above me,” said the Collingwood resident, 16.
“Just from the sheer size of the plane, it felt a lot closer.”
Crosswinds at Halifax Stanfield International Airport made for a challenging landing, although he boasted that his touchdown was pretty smooth, Gougeon said.
“The trickiest part was probably the mountains, but this landing (today) was up there,” he told reporters who met him at the airport late Thursday afternoon.
“I’m still in the flight or fight mode.”
But Gougeon was also proud of his accomplishment.
“I guess I’m now the youngest to fly solo across the country from coast-to-coast.”
While no official records exist, after consulting with the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association, Gougeon believes he is the youngest pilot to accomplish the feat.
He began his 5,000-kilometre adventure in Tofino, B.C., last Friday.
Along the way, Gougeon said he had a couple of breaks, including a stop at his family’s Sudbury summer home. He was able to touch the amphibious plane down on a lake just outside its back door.
“So I’m pretty rested.”
Gougeon wasn’t completely alone on the trip. His father, Mike, was always nearby.
“He was in a different plane, kinda in case something went wrong,” the teenager said. “We were about a couple of miles apart.”
Gougeon said he relied on his father, and, in particular, his father’s access to satellite weather information when they encountered violent Ontario thunderstorms.
“He can see everything and exactly where it is. So he’s telling me where it is and where to go to stay out of it.”
Still, Mother Nature was intimidating.
“It was a little bit stressful at times when you see lightning strikes off in the distance. Actually, it looks a lot closer then it really is. So that can be a bit scary.”
Some of the most challenging flying came early on in the trip.
“Probably the most difficult part was going into Victoria, B.C., ’cause it’s one of the busiest airports in Canada.”
Gougeon has been in planes since he was 11 days old, and he clearly remembers as a youngster of seven or eight pestering his father to explain what the plane’s instruments do and to let him take the controls.
Eventually, he would like to earn his commercial pilot’s licence and then go on to become an instructor. Gougeon will be starting Grade 12 in the fall, and he is already thinking about university.
The boy’s air adventure is a fundraiser for the Neil Armstrong Scholarship, which the association administers. The fund provides flight training for young people who have the talent and character to become pilots but can’t afford it.
An Ontario business has promised to match donations up to $10,000.
More information about Gougeon’s journey and the scholarship fund can be found at crosscanadasolochallenge.ca.