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Boy, 16, becomes UK’s youngest ever solo pilot… thanks to practising on his Xbox

Published by Waleed Fakhroo on November 24, 2009


A teenager has become the youngest pilot to fly solo in Britain – a year before he can start learning to drive.

James Coyne-Downhill, 16, took to the skies when he was just 14, and made his first solo flight on his 16th birthday.

His instructor put the impressive feat down to the dextrous skills of the ‘Xbox generation.’

The 10-minute flight makes James, who is yet to sit his GCSEs, the joint UK record holder with fellow 16-year-old Tom Rule.

James, from Ringwood, Hampshire, flew the A28 light aircraft in near-perfect weather conditions at Bournemouth Flying Club.

James plane

He said: ‘I feel honoured. It was a real achievement. You just experience a total sense of freedom. No words can express the feeling.

‘I’ve been flying with an instructor for two years now, but I had to wait until I was 16 before I could fly solo.

‘I’ve been looking forward to it for ages. I was nervous for the week before, just psyching myself up, but when I got in the plane I was just excited.

‘Everything went really smoothly, just as I’d practised, and I even had time to enjoy the view while I was up there.

‘I was up there for 20 minutes in total and covered about five nautical miles.

‘There was a moment when I was coming into land and I was told to orbit for ten minutes to let another plane use the runway.

‘I found out later that my parents were wondering if I had crashed – they were much more worried than I was.’ The year 11 pupil now aims to study for his flying exams and become a commerical airline pilot after finishing school.

The youngster, who is an Air Cadet at Ringwood and Fordingbridge, took his first flying lesson aged 14 with his dad Geoffrey, 44.

He said: ‘James has always had an interest in mechanical things and is a member of the Air Cadets.

‘He missed out on a couple of flight days with them and beacuse he missed out we came down here for a taster session.

xbox‘We loved it so much we decided to learn to fly together.

‘I went solo a couple of months ago but James is better than me.’ He has trained every other weekend with instructor Simon Malfin, who put his success down to the many hours he dedicated to computer games.

Simon said: ‘I was worried about the weather yesterday but today it’s been perfect because there’s nil wind and good visibility.

‘I’ve trained about five schoolboys before. They tend to pick it up more quickly than adults.

‘But that’s the Xbox generation – their hand-eye coordination is better.

‘James is very professional and very cautious which is what you’re looking for.’ James said: ‘I do love to play computer games and always go on the Xbox when I’m round friend’s houses.

‘I do think it’s helped me with my hand-eye coordination – our generation is very lucky in that way.’ His mum Bridgette, 52, said: ‘We’re very proud of him indeed, it’s a brilliant achievement.

‘We had been keeping our fingers crossed for good weather and fortunately everything worked out perfectly for his birthday.

‘You are really in the lap of the gods with flying.

‘Like all boys his age, he plays computer games all the time. His instructor said it might actually have helped him with the flying, so I’m pleased it’s finally been put to good use.’

James is also a keen mountain biker, go-karter, sailor and motocross rider.

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