Cadet 'slips the surly bonds of Earth' in historic 1st solo powered flight

Cadet 1st Class Staci Rouse emerges enthusiastically from a T-53A trainer that she flew solo, marking a historic first for the Air Force Academy's powered flight program. Rouse, a native of Woodridge, N.J., is assigned to Cadet Squadron 40. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Cadet 1st Class Staci Rouse emerges enthusiastically from a T-53A trainer that she flew solo, marking a historic first for the Air Force Academy's powered flight program. Rouse, a native of Woodridge, N.J., is assigned to Cadet Squadron 40. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Lt. Col. Scott Oskvarek presents Cadet 1st Class Staci Rouse with a name patch upon her landing to commemorate her historic fight Sept. 7. Rouse was the first cadet in Academy history to fly solo in a powered aircraft. Oskvarek is an instructor pilot with the 70th Flying Training Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Lt. Col. Scott Oskvarek presents Cadet 1st Class Staci Rouse with a name patch upon her landing to commemorate her historic fight Sept. 7. Rouse was the first cadet in Academy history to fly solo in a powered aircraft. Oskvarek is an instructor pilot with the 70th Flying Training Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- A senior with Cadet Squadron 40 "slipped the surly bonds of Earth" during her solo flight Sept. 7, marking the first time in Air Force Academy history that a cadet has flown a solo powered flight in the T-53A.

Cadet 1st Class Staci Rouse's sortie caps more than 12 months of hard work from several agencies, said Lt. Col. Bradley Oliver, the 557th Flying Training Squadron commander.

"We hope she is the first of many cadets to solo in this program," Oliver said.

Rouse, a native of Woodbridge, N.J., said she was nervous, but also excited and "extremely confident" about conducting her first solo flight.

"I had much more confidence flying the aircraft than I expected I ever would after my first flight. When I landed, I felt everything I worked for had paid off. I was overjoyed to see everyone waiting for me after the flight because they all helped me so much. I felt like all of my work made them proud, and I was very thankful for that."

Prior to the solo flight, Rouse demonstrated proficiency in patterns and landings with her instructor pilot, Lt. Col. Scott Oskvarek, a reservist with the 70th FTS.

"She was definitely ready for solo and well-qualified to be the first solo cadet," Oskvarek said. "I'm extremely proud of her accomplishment."

Rouse credited her instructor pilots with helping ease her pre-flight jitters.

"I had a hard time with worrying about the things I didn't do the best on, rather than focusing on what I could do next, and some of my instructor pilots definitely helped me out with that," Rouse said. "They were all incredible instructors."

After taking off and flying once around her pattern, Rouse touched down for a full-stop landing. A short taxi later, she shut down the engine and stepped out of the aircraft, where she met her classmates and instructors. In following with Air Force solo tradition, her classmates submerged her in the squadron dunk tank.

Capt. Emily Kubusek, the 557th FTS Powered Flight Program flight commander, said Rouse's flight is an inspiration to both Rouse and her classmates.

"We provide every cadet with world-class training, instruction and the opportunity to solo a powered aircraft," Kubusek said. "The thrill of solo flight is amazing. It gives the cadets a tremendous amount of confidence, and it energizes the entire squadron."

Editor's Note: "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth ..." is the first line of the poem "High Flight," by John Gillespie Magee Jr.