Flying Thank You Tour!!
Well, you may or may not know that I passed my pilot checkride <![if !vml]><![endif]> (Sport Pilot Practical Test) and I am thrilled, stunned and just a little bit at a loss for words on how to express my feelings, so I typed them all out :-> This was a journey that started 10 years ago, in 2004, when Steve Johnson and I went to Alaska for a summer vacation and while there, we did a flight-seeing tour around Denali in a 1961 de Havilland Otter. That trip was cool, not just because of the tour itself which was awe inspiring, but I remember the pilot banking the wing over to allow us to look a mile down from the top of Denali to the glacier below. I had my nose pressed to the window in amazement at the scenery and that I could see this from the plane while not falling out or crashing! Later that trip, on our last excursion, we ended in Seward, where I truly fell in love with Alaska. We decided to take one more flight-seeing tour, in this case over the large Kenai Fjords and ice field. This trip flew out of the Seward airport and did a large loop by first going out over Seward bay where there was a cruise ship in the harbor, then over and across the Kenai fjords, over the ice cap, then back down through the valley past salmon choked rivers, grizzly bears playing in hammocks of ferns and then past Exit Glacier, Marathon Mountain and back to Seward. All in a comfortable 4-seat Cessna 172 (see video here).
During this trip I was so enamored with the Kenai Fjords and how easy it was to see this from our small perch, it occurred to me that perhaps I could do this. Perhaps I could fly. I mean, why not? So, after we landed, I asked the pilot how he got the airplane there and how did he become a pilot and so on. During the conversation he mentioned he was a part time flight instructor and I asked where and he said Westminster, Colorado. 20 minutes from my house!! Turns out though he was not going to be instructing soon as he was still flying in Alaska but I resolved right then and there that I would go to the Jefferson County Airport (called Jeffco then and now called Rocky Mountain Regional) and start flying lessons! <Eureaka! I found the pilot who inspired me, Jim Craig! Here is his website with the Seward/Kenai Flight-Seeing Tours (http://www.sewardair.com/Home_Page.html)>
So when I got back to Colorado, I did my Alta Vista search on the Internet (there was no Google then), and found a few listings. I ended up picking Journey's Aviation where eventually I was paired up with my first flight instructor, Lucas Bostyan and a Diamond C-21 Eclipse (Katana) for an Introductory Flight. From there, as they say, the rest is history. A long, long, 10 year history! I put about 100 hours on the Katana, getting close to the Private Pilot Practical Test (checkride) and even getting an article published in AOPA about my solo experience but for whatever reasons, work, family, money, life, etc., I did not go through and finish and get my certificate. However I still wanted to fly but felt like I needed to save money and do this at a more leisurely pace. So while opining on my state I ran across, a now Google search, of a type of plane set called Ultralights. Without going into too much detail, there are a number of different types of ultralights from small, single-seat airplanes you can fly without a license, to gliders, parasails, para-motors, trikes and small two-seater airplanes that can be either home-built or kit built.
This seemed like an inexpensive and simpler option to propel my desire to fly but not worry about having to get the Private Certificate right away. Again, after more research, I found the website of Steven Moore (www.mooreairtime.com) who instructed in something called a Weight-Shift Control Aircraft or better known as a "Trike". Essentially a hang glider with either a single or dual seat carriage attached below with a small engine and propeller pushing the aircraft. After doing another Introduction Discovery Flight with Steve, I was hooked! What a blast! Trikes are just really fun. You can see over 20 different videos I have of flying in trikes by doing a YouTube search for "wsnod1000". Although there are trikes that allow you to fly without a license (Part 103), most trikes are a bit bigger and required a new kind of license called a Sport Pilot. This is essentially the same type of license as a Private but with greater restrictions for safety such as you can only carry one passenger, can't fly at night, etc. Mostly this is low and slow daytime flying that people do for fun rather than for business or long, extended trips. And, a key for me is that you do not need, the typically onerous medical certificate, just your driver's license. And for me, I have Sleep Apnea, (now controlled with a BiPaP machine), and the ability to get the required 3rd Class Medical is a very extensive, albeit doable, requirement to demonstrate that my Sleep Apnea was under control. Again, without going into greater detail, suffice to say that the requirement was more than I thought I could manage, but with the Sport Pilot Certificate I do not require the medical. So, there was my solution to keep flying.
I began practicing with Steve and again got close to the Sport Pilot Practical Test but again, reasons that are pointless to name, it is just what I did and did NOT to do, I did not finish getting my certificate. I had in the meantime bought two trikes on two different occasions and enjoyed immensely the flying I did practicing including crashing one of the trikes slightly (tore the wing and bent the wheel, but that's another story). However at this time I was beginning to miss flying a "regular" 3-axis airplane and sold my last trike and bought, from the hangar directly across from me, this beautiful small single-seat airplane called a Capella, sold by Chuck Hess (Capella Sing-Sport). Now unfortunately I could not fly her as I had to have the Sport Pilot certificate to fly it since there would not be an instructor to ride with me since it is a single seater. So again, one more search on the Internet and after talking briefly with Chris Dillis from Sky Raider's (now Aspen Flying) about flying one of their Light Sport Aircraft, it turns out they had something comparable, called a Remos GX.
The Remos GX is bigger than my plane but is essentially a two-seat airplane with a little bit bigger engine. I started flying out at Erie Tri-County Airport with Dennis Moss but I had now created a new future with my beautiful, blushing bride, Laura Snodgrass, and was now moved up to Fort Collins. Unfortunately my Capella was located at Front Range Airport (near Denver International Airport (DIA)) but I wanted to continue to practice and Fort Collins/Loveland was the closest airport. So I started instruction at Jack Taylor's The Flying School with Will Alsum and also started renting a hangar with Dave Biesemeier. Now again, the planet keeps turning and the universe keeps moving so time marched on while Will got a job and moved on as instructor. I switched jobs to work more in Houston with my company, traveling to Houston about every other week for a year and I also was the proud renter of two hangars! You can see the critical mass occurring. :)
By now I had a new instructor, Art Hoag, not only a fantastic instructor, to rival and perhaps best my first instructors teachings (sorry Lucas!) but also a really very nice, young man and wonderful human being who I call my friend. Art's patience, but insistence on getting me finished, helped win the day by outlining a very clear, concise plan of what I needed to do...and that is what I did. Now I should point out that at the same time, I also see for myself that I became crystal clear on what I wanted to do with this license. I can't really say for sure how all of the events occurred and lined up and whether I truly manifested them or they were happy happenstance but Laura and I have a small bit of land down in the San Luis Valley near Alamosa, CO and I did a small book project there called Reading Is a Gift. Since then, I have had a desire to see what else I could do to give back to that area. Along with this I have also talked to Steve about the project I would like to do using trikes as a means to excite young children and teens about aviation. Not only are trikes cool but they are also much more affordable and portable. By showcasing and demonstrating trikes at middle and high schools, this would be a way to encourage young kids to fly. Soooooo, how about becoming a Sport Pilot Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) for trikes (weight-shift control) and airplanes in the San Luis Valley while also seeing how I can bring more aviation into the Southern Colorado schools. I mean, why not?
And now I have finally passed my Sport Pilot checkride (Thank You Jack Taylor!) and am a certificated Sport Pilot. I can legally (and safely I might add) carry one passenger for flight during the day. Want to come? :-) My next goals are to get my certificate to fly trikes, endorsements to extend the range of my Sport Pilot Certificate, a Repairman's Certificate so I can perform my own work on my Capella and my Private Pilot License. Seems the FAA is finally looking into the issues of the 3rd Class Medical for Private Pilots and most people believe there will be a new ruling fairly shortly that would allow me to again, only fly with a driver's license but with all of the privileges of a Private Certificate (more than two passengers, night flight, etc.). And after that, my CFI Certificate so that I can instruct. I am so excited and happy to see this all so clearly. I wouldn't necessarily recommend getting these licenses over a 10 year period like I did but it was also a hell of a lot of fun!
Below are all of the people I would like to thank for helping me get this certificate but I first of all want to say thank you, Thank You to my beautiful wife for supporting me and encouraging me in this everlasting endeavor! And although I may gush about it a bit, Art Hoag really is a fine instructor. He will no doubt eventually be offered a job flying for the major airlines and I will be a little sad to see him depart but it is a testament to Jack Taylor's school that he has such fine instructors, and I of course wish him the best. This guy is really just such a great, great person. I'm just really glad I got to know him. Check out his rocketry page here (http://ncrocketry.org/). Mind blowing for me!
I also want to thank Steve Moore for his great instruction in trikes. We have had so much fun together and also another good friend. I'll be seeing more of him soon!
And of course I cannot forget my first flight instructor (and true love, :->), Lucas Bostyan for starting me on this path. Although I did not get to finish up with Lucas, his instruction from the very beginning set a tone for my own flying that has always impressed any instructors I have had work with me. He has also moved onto the Majors and flies for Frontier. I owe you one more ride buddy.
Finally below are other folks, instructors and encouragers who helped me along the way. Each of you gave me something that has made me a better flyer! Here's to another 10 years of flying!
Jim Craig (the unknown pilot who inspired me to fly!!; Thank you Jim!)
Tracy (The Hammer) Spencer
© William F. Snodgrass 2014