For as long as he can remember, Solomon Cameron has had his head in the clouds dreaming of flying aeroplanes. Now, at 15, he has passed his recreational pilot’s certificate and is planning a solo flight around Australia that could land him in the record books.
If he completes the 15,000km journey stopping at about 70 airstrips along the way, he will become the youngest person to circumnavigate the continent alone by air.
This is no flight of fancy – Solomon has dedicated his trip to promoting aviation to youth and raising funds for a charity that provides non-emergency air transport for country Australians needing specialist medical care.
“My goal is to raise $40,000 for Angel Flight Australia,” the quietly spoken adventurer says as he sits in the Bendigo Flying Club rooms overlooking the airport. “I’ve met a lot of pilots who fly for Angel Flight on a voluntary basis and the support they give the Australian community is essential.”
Solomon aims to depart Bendigo in early May, taking to the sky in a single-engine, two-seater Jabiru J230, owned by his dad and sponsored by the family’s N8 Health business.
“I started planning this around April last year. There is a lot of safety planning involved – risk assessments, mapping out fuel stops and where I will be staying. I hope to be billeted overnight by families from schools I avisit along the route, where I’ll hold fundraisers for Angel Flight and talk to students my age about becoming a pilot.
“My biggest challenge will be minimising the risk of fatigue. Flying over the ocean and some parts of Australia where landing options are less adequate also carries risk, so I’m trying to avoid the more dangerous places to fly over.”
Unpredictable weather patterns and potential mechanical issues may also put him to the test.
Solomon’s lofty ambitions and love of aircraft can be traced back to his toddler years.
“When I was about three, Dad had his pilot’s licence and he took me up a couple of times and that’s where my passion for flying started. He had a flight simulator that I used a lot growing up and whenever a plane flew overhead, I’d rush outside to have a look.
“Then, around 11, I started riding my bike out to the airport to sit on a bench and watch planes take off and land for hours on end. My first flight was a trial flight at 12 years old and I absolutely loved it. It’s peaceful up there, separated from the rest of the world. Once it was finished, I knew I had to be a pilot.”
The enthusiastic youngster saved enough money from washing planes, mowing lawns and cleaning offices to pay for flying lessons and says he was also privileged to be taken up by several local pilots in many different aircraft to help build up his hours and experience.
Pilots need at least 20 hours in the air, and five hours solo, before they can become certified but cannot fly on their own until the age of 15.
“I did my first solo flight at 6.30am on my 15th birthday,” says Solomon with a grin. “Just one take-off and landing that lasted only 10 minutes. But then I took some time off school and did a lot of flying so I was able to gain my certificate last September at 15 years and six days.”
He now has more than 80 hours under his belt and has flown to airports including Mildura, Tyabb, Merimbula and Shepparton. He has taken parents Andrew and Jane, brothers Jimmy and Louis and several family friends for joyrides.
Solomon’s mum tells of how her son once nagged her and Andrew to listen to an episode of US aviation podcast Airplane Geeks, eventually turning it on and leaving the room.
“We heard this American accent saying, ‘Today we are having a chat with young Australian pilot Solomon…’,” Jane recalls. “He’d contacted them himself and they interviewed him. I am in awe of his ability to drive this whole plan. I haven’t had to put much effort in because he’s done it all himself. He wants to do this at such a young age and he’s making that dream a real possibility.”
Solomon is grateful for the support of his family and the Bendigo Airport community.
“A lot of people here are right behind me. George Martin is one who has taken me under his wing and given me advice and taught me much about aviation.”
Bendigo Flying Club flight instructor Linda Beilharz – the acclaimed polar explorer – admires Solomon’s adventurous spirit, meticulous planning and commitment to his quest.
“He is quite an amazing young man with a lot of maturity and, while this is an audacious plan, he is quite capable of succeeding,” she says of her dedicated student.
“It isn’t going to be easy and he will encounter unexpected things that he will have to work out along the way… but he has all the qualities required. He’s considered and cautious, he has set up a plan and been building up his flying experience. And, he is a very natural pilot.”
The Bendigo South East College year 10 student has spent much of the past year developing the framework for his journey, spending countless hours poring over navigational maps, refining his route and seeking sponsorship. Companies including Flightstore and AvPlan have come on board and a Go Fund Me page has been established to assist with costs.
After departing Bendigo, Solomon intends to stop first at King Island, work his way around Tasmania then embark on an anti-clockwise mainland loop expected to take about 30 days, before landing back on his home runway.
The record for solo circumnavigation of Australia stands at 16 years and eight months. Solomon will be 15 and 9 months if he takes off and lands on schedule.
“My journey so far has taught me it is not impossible to achieve big things at a young age. But becoming the youngest is not the main aim of this project – the real goal is raising money for Angel Flight and promoting aviation.”
To support Solomon and follow his progress, visit his Facebook page SoloMan Around Australia or www.gofundme.com/soloman-15