KENDALLVILLE — Samantha Williams, 16, of Kendallville is allowed to fly small aircraft, and even has one of her own.
But she has only her learner’s permit for driving an automobile.
“I can fly by myself in an airplane right now, but I can’t drive by myself in a car until December,” Williams said.
For Samantha, flying feels natural. She’s the daughter of Roy Williams of Kendallville, owner of Airframe Components by Williams, a company that works to restore, repair and refurbish airplanes and airplane parts.
Samantha has a photo of herself riding in an airplane with her father as an infant.
“I’ve been around airplanes since I was born,” she said.
Samantha had wanted to fly for about two years before she was able to take a plane up. Her first lesson was in October 2012, with her first solo coming about four months ago, nine days after her 16th birthday.
Samantha’s airplane is a Cessna 150, said Roy.
“I bought the airplane in September 2012 from a farmer in Findlay, Ill. He had used it for years to fly locally, inspecting crops and taking grandkids for rides,” he said. “He simply didn’t have a need for the airplane anymore.”
But the plane hadn’t been flown since 2004, so it needed to be worked on thoroughly, Roy said. He took it to his own shop.
“Due to the precision with which aircraft are built, it is difficult to restore them correctly without precision tooling,” Roy said. The fixtures and procedures used by Airframe Components maintain the tolerances needed to restore an aircraft to factory-original specifications, he added.
At one level, the project was a father-daughter effort.
“Over the winter, we’d been fixing it up,” Samantha said. She took out the interior and engine, put the engine back on and worked on the wing struts.
At another level, it was a shopwide project. The 30 guys who work in the shop all wanted to get their hands on the plane, Samantha said.
Some elements of the project went beyond Kendallville. The engine was overhauled at Aircraft Engine Overhaul in Butler, and the plane was painted by Sturgis Aviation in Sturgis, Mich. The radios were installed by Muncie Aviation.
The plane has all-new wings, tail feathers and tires, Roy said. It also went through the supplemental inspection program for aging aircraft from Cessna, which showcased the shop’s capabilities, he said.
While the company always strives to get everything precisely correct, Roy had an added motive in this case.
“You want to make sure everything’s perfect when it’s your kid,” he said.
That was part of why he took the rebuilt plane up for its first flight in July.
“He didn’t tell me until afterward,” Samantha said.
Samantha trained as a pilot with flight instructor Myron Yoder of Sweet Aviation at Smith Field, Fort Wayne.
Samantha and her father had similar feelings the day of her first solo flight.
“Before I took off, I was really nervous,” she said. “Dad kept asking my instructor, ‘Are you sure she’s ready?’”
But then Samantha flew alone for the first time. “Once I got in the air, it was so much fun,” she said.
Since then, Samantha has flown some “touch-and-go” flights, in which the pilot touches the plane at an airport, then flies away. She’s also flown cross-country to Michigan and back.
Samantha enjoys night flying. “It’s harder to tell how high you are above the ground, but I like it,” she said.
Samantha can’t carry passengers in her plane except for other licensed pilots at present. That has to wait until she gets her pilot’s license, which she can do at 17.
She recommends learning to fly. “It’s just so cool. … In an airplane, you feel so powerful,” she said. “I think everybody should learn to fly.”
Samantha’s younger sisters, Sydney, 13, and Sara, 11, also plan to learn to fly, and Roy plans to build each of them a plane.