Kyle Soto poses by his airplane at the Lincoln Airport on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

While tough midterms may be putting the brakes on some student’s travel plans, one University of Nebraska-Lincoln freshman is able to jet around the country on a whim, skipping town for places like the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic seaboard twice a week. 

“It’s all because of aviation,” Soto said, “and without that I wouldn’t have those opportunities.”

Kyle Soto is both a certified private and commercial pilot approaching 300 flight hours and a freshman advertising and public relations major at UNL.

Soto said he earned his private flight certification at a local pilot training company, Performance Aircraft, in July 2020 after two months of flight school, but his training really took off when he started working at the school in Sept. 2018 — two weeks after his sixteenth birthday.

“The expectation for me [by my instructors] was already higher than other students, but I still had a lot more background knowledge than other students,” Soto said.

While Soto was terrified as a beginning pilot, flying soon became second nature to him — almost “easier than riding a bike,” he said.

Despite his experience in the cockpit, Soto said being a pilot is not a static discipline.

“You're always learning something new,” Soto said.

While he said flying is a leisure activity for him, pilots must juggle several tasks.

Soto said he discovered his dream of flying while growing up in the Highlands neighborhood of Lincoln, just northeast of the Lincoln Airport. When he was about four, Soto said he flew to his uncle’s wedding in Baltimore, Maryland.

“I remember the feeling of flying,” Soto said. “I thought it was so cool, the ground is way down there, but I’m up here standing.”

Soto recalled one specific incident where he lost his attitude indicator — which tells pilots how their aircraft is oriented — while in the center of a mass of clouds. Relying only on his knowledge and trust in his instruments, Soto said he successfully pulled his aircraft out of a 30 degree bank and out of the low-visibility situation.

Hunched over his notes at a table in the Nebraska Union, Soto looks like any other freshman cramming for an exam, pushing through hardship like he did when he navigated with a faulty attitude indicator thousands of feet in the sky.

Soto said he’s “taking one thing at a time, having good time management, scheduling things out” but is wary of taking a break and subsequently falling behind.

Zach Pauley, a junior human development and family science major and a close friend of Soto, met him at church. Pauley said that Soto’s balancing act between school and flying is not one that can be done alone.

“God gave me this gift of flight,” Soto said, “for a greater purpose.”

Soto plans to become a missionary pilot with the Missionary Aviation Fellowship, tying his faith into his passion. 

Pauley said that because being a missionary pilot is not a well-known occupation, Soto will not get the credit he deserves. “But at the same time, I don't think he’s doing it for the credit,” he added.

For anyone on the fence about participating in Soto’s rare hobby, he points to its base paradox as a selling point.

“Flying is the one thing we shouldn’t be able to do. Because why should thousands of pounds be able to be suspended in the air? The fact that we shouldn’t be able to do it but we can, just makes me want to do it more,” he said.