To say the sky’s the limit for Rohaan Vasa might be an understatement.
The Grade 12 student is fresh off qualifying for the FIRST Robotics World Championships — along with his teammates on Team 7558 ALT-F4 — one of several robotics teams at Bayview Glen School.
It was a second feat of note for Rohaan in recent months. The first came a few weeks earlier — several thousand feet above the ground.
“I have been fascinated by aviation my entire life,” says the 17-year-old. “My initial interest in flying stemmed from my interest in how things work.”
That curiosity has been further fuelled by his co-curricular activities including robotics at BVG and Air Cadets outside of school.
“When I was young, I would frequently find myself glaring up into the sky at massive jets and thinking how does something that heavy fly so fast. My experiences through cadets exponentially increased my interest in planes,” he says.
So, on his 17th birthday in early December, Rohaan literally took his hobby to new heights.
“Becoming a pilot is not easy, there is a lot to learn both in physical skill as well as theory,” says fight instructor Thomas Stevens. “Rohaan worked hard to achieve his goal of becoming a licensed recreational pilot on the day he turned 16, and then a licensed private pilot on the day he turned 17,” he says.
“Until recently I believed becoming a pilot was an unachievable goal which took years to do,” adds Rohaan. “My involvement in the Air Cadets program for the past six years only strengthened my desire to become a pilot. Through the program I lived on Air Force bases and was exposed to many people in the industry. My interactions with them solidified my choices and proved to me that I wanted to get my license.”
All this while managing a heavy course load in his graduating year, along with robotics team responsibilities that run an additional 15 to 20 hours per week, and other activities.
“When I got my Recreational license, I was the youngest pilot in Canada and one of the youngest in the world,” shares Rohaan. “Most other countries allow people to get pilots’ licenses at 17 or 18.”
Earning the Canadian Private Pilots’ License means Rohaan can “can fly a Canadian registered plane pretty much anywhere in the world. There is no limit to the number of passengers I can carry, and I can be certified on larger aircraft,” he says.
The process since day one has been, naturally, rigorous.
“I had gone through ground school at my cadets’ squadron twice and had a basic understanding of the physics behind flying,” continues Rohaan. “I had to apply for my aviation medical and pass the ROC-A (radio license) exam. Once the training started, I had to complete 300+ hours of online ground school which culminated in a three-hour, 100 question multiple choice exam. The requirements for a Recreational permit are 45 hours of flight time, 15 hours of solo time, and one dual cross country,” he says.
His flight instructor has been working with Rohaan for more than 18 months. “This process required careful planning and high degree of performance on his part during training,” says Stevens. “His achievement is certainly impressive!”
And even as he imagines travelling to even greater heights, Rohaan remembers that first experience in the sky by himself, in explicit detail.
“My first solo was the most magical experience of my life so far,” he says. “I soloed after only 17 hours of flight experience. The day of my first solo I went up with my instructor for a few practice circuits to make sure I was safe. My instructor hopped out of the plane and with a fist bump, left me alone in the plane for the first time. I taxied out to runway 26 at Billy Bishop airport and holding short of the runway I felt my body go into autopilot. I had done the same procedures countless times. As I took off. I felt a total sense of freedom. It was just me, the plane, and the sky!”
Little wonder that Rohaan is considering an undergraduate degree in engineering and a career in the aerospace industry.
“My dream job, at the moment, is to work for a space company like Space X or Blue Origin, designing spacecraft,” he says.
Between now and then, who knows what else may inspire Rohaan.
There’s the upcoming first space mission to the moon in more than 50 years.
Scheduled for November 2024.
The history-making Artemis II mission.
With a Canadian astronaut, trained as a CF-18 pilot, aboard.