Redmond teen flying high: Sweetser becomes youngest sport pilot in nation

It’s always said that records are made to be broken. But for Redmond teen Zach Sweetser, it’s safe to say his record will stand for good. The 17-year-old recently became the youngest to ever earn a certified sport pilot’s license, having taken the test on Dec. 23, his birthday, and passing with flying colors.

Redmond’s Zach Sweetser

Redmond’s Zach Sweetser

It’s always said that records are made to be broken.

But for Redmond teen Zach Sweetser, it’s safe to say his record will stand for good.

The 17-year-old recently became the youngest to ever earn a certified sport pilot’s license, having taken the test on Dec. 23, his birthday, and passing with flying colors.

The minimum age to become sport pilot-certified in the United States is currently 17.

Sweetser flew in a powered parachute for the exam, one of six qualified types of aircraft including gliders, gyroplanes and airships. He said he hopes to use his recent accomplishment as a steppingstone to a career in aviation.

“I basically plan on doing it professionally, as a commercial airline pilot,” he said. “That’s the plan.”



Sweetser’s love for aviation definitely runs in his family, as his grandfather was a bomber pilot during World War II, with his granduncle also serving as a fighter pilot. His uncle is currently a charter pilot in California, and according to his dad, the teen has been playing flight simulators ever since he was able to use a computer – about 7 or 8 years old.

The Interlake High School junior is also a member of the Marymoor Park RC club, a gathering of powered model airplane enthusiasts, and has devoted many hours to helping others pilot their craft.

“I started teaching with them last summer and became the youngest instructor for them,” Sweetser said. “I’ve soloed a seven-year-old, and got in a lot of training time. I fly out there too with friends … it’s another whole side to aviation.”

Soon after getting involved at Marymoor, however, he set his sights on actually taking to the skies.



Getting introduced to Mark Martin (right) of Seattle Powerchutes, based out of Arlington, Sweetser soon got the opportunity to start flying powered parachutes.

Carrying a price tag of as much as $20-$25,000 for a top-of-the-line two-seater, a powered parachute is basically a parachute attached to a lightweight cage with a motor and wheels.

While the minimum logbook requirements to take the pilot’s exam are 12 total hours, including two solo flights, Sweetser got much more experience in.

By his estimations, when Dec. 23 rolled around he had amassed 18 or 19 hours of flight time including six solo trips to the sky.

“I was pretty prepared for it,” he admitted.

He was actually more nervous about the written test, administered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but his fears proved to be a non-issue as he scored 93 percent.

“It’s an actual written test you have to study for, multiple-choice,” he said. “It was more of a school thing than hands-on, like flying.”

For the actual flight exam, Sweetser traveled back to Arlington to meet with examiner Doug Maas, and fired up his Six Chuter Spirit plane on what was a clear, still day.

“It was a perfect day for weather, “ Sweetser recalled. “I warmed up the plane and he watched me do my preflight checks, and make sure I knew how to prepare the airplane.”

After that, he was told to plan out a cross-country trip with two stops, totaling 30 miles, and estimate travel time and fuel burn, and took more oral tests on FAA regulations and emergency situations.

“After we got done with pre-flight, I had to treat him as if he was a passenger, so I had to tell him what would happen in a worst-case scenario, what to expect when we take off, the feelings of the flight. itself,” Sweetser explained.

From there we took off and he had me fly straight out over fields and farmlands, do a couple maneuvers including an ‘S’ curve and a 360-degree constant altitude turn. And then he simulated an engine failure and asked me what I’d do, and I pointed to where I’d land. Once I landed, he congratulated me and from there it was all paperwork. It was pretty fun.”

Now, Sweetser looks to move onto fixed-wing aircraft at a flight school in Arlington called Out of the Blue Aviation, but a couple years down the road, he hopes to find himself in Ellensburg where he will begin his career hopes as a commercial pilot.

“What I’m really planning on is going to Central Washington University and taking their aviation program,” he said. “There, you can basically get your private instrument, commercial and ATP (licenses), which is Airline Transport Pilot. They’ll take you all the way through, and some airlines, from what I’ve heard, can actually take you in after you graduated.”

Finally, Sweetser made sure to thank his parents, Todd and Kristin for their support, and a whole host of people, including his pilot neighbor, Jay Uuisitalo, who made his dream of flying possible.

“I want to thank Mark Martin, he was the one who took me up and gave me the opportunity to start flying powered parachutes,” Sweetser said. “Rick Gutierrez also helped me out… Doug, my examiner, who came all the way from Battle Ground a couple days before Christmas to test me. Scott Zumwalt was the one who actually introduced me to Mark, so he’s one of the main reasons I even got into this, and started the path to go this direction.”

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