Exploring a life of flying
EAGLE COUNTY – There’s a burger place right over the Colorado-Utah border. It’s not on any map, and doesn’t have a sign. But Eagle Valley High School graduate James Ewing can fly right to it.”It’s a cool little spot,” says James of the burger place near Canyonlands in Utah. “The runway is out in the middle of nowhere. There are no windsocks or anything. To figure out the winds, you have to look at the tumbleweeds.”The 18-year-old, who left this week for college at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., is a licensed pilot. Hitting places like the unmarked burger joint is just one of the perks he gets from flying. Learning to fly has also brought him closer with his father, Glen. Flying provided him with a focus for his high school studies. If James continues along the course he has plotted now, he hopes that pilot’s license will be a stepping stone for a career in aviation one day.James began flying when he was 16. What started out as a hobby for him and his dad, has turned into something more, he says. “Flying wasn’t something I thought I would ever get into,” says James. “But my dad bribed me. He said he would get me a car if I got my pilot’s license. Now it is something that I love doing.”James got his pilot’s license and the car. He found out quickly in his training, though, that his dad’s Cessna Skylane 182 can take him a lot farther, and faster, than anything with four wheels, he says. Up to speedLearning to fly while taking classes at Eagle Valley High School challenging, James says. In his senior year, he went to class with everyone else for half the day, but after lunch, he got to go home and study on his own or under his dad’s supervision. He flew four hours every weekend for practice, and to log the hours he needed to get a license.
“Everyone thought I was so lucky to get to leave school early every day,” James says. “But it was tough to have the discipline to do the work at home.”James managed to do it, and he says it helped him develop his own discipline. He learned better study habits, and how to budget time. “That was the best thing Eagle Valley ever gave me,” says James. “I don’t think I would have been able to get (my license) if they hadn’t set up the independent study.”James credits Athletics Director Dave Scott and Principal Mark Strakbein for recognizing that flying was what he wanted to do. The extensive studying was all up to James, though.There are three federal tests aspiring pilots have to pass before they can take to the air. The first is a multiple choice test. The Federal Aviation Administration picks 60 questions from a list of 3,000. Students must score 70 percent the test that covers aerodynamics, how to read maps, and the rules of flying cross country and at night.After the multiple choice test comes an oral exam, which James took in Grand Junction. “In that one they basically grill you,” says father Glen, who is also a licensed pilot. “If your knowledge is deficient in any area, it will show up pretty quickly.”The testing culminates with a flight test. If the instructor is satisfied with the pilot’s aptitude and ability, he is on his way to flying solo.”It was kind of strange when they finally cleared me to fly by myself,” says James. “The instructor said, ‘OK, you are ready’ … I was like, ‘Am I ready?'”The first solo flight went off with just one minor hitch. Prevailing winds forced him to take off in a direction he had never taken off from before.”When I got in the air, they told me to do a teardrop maneuver,” James says. The only problem: James didn’t know what that was. The control tower walked him through a teardrop – a simple move pilots use to circle an airport and return to the runway – and James got safely back on the ground. Different perspectiveThe view from the pilot’s seat of a Cessna is pretty amazing, says James. Flying in the area has given him an appreciation for the lay of the land. It has made him realize just how close Eagle is to neighboring mountain towns, like Aspen. “It’s right over that hill,” says James as he points south over Gypsum.
The view from above has also calmed his fears that the area is becoming overcrowded.”Along the highway, there is a lot of development,” says James. “But once you get away from that little ribbon of highway, there is so much open space.”Once James and his dad get the plane in the air, there isn’t that much to do. Besides keeping an eye on the control panels and gauges, the two get plenty of time for father-son chats.”We talk about just about anything,” says James. “He was my Nordic coach and golf coach, too. So we have spent a lot of time together in the past few years.”James recalls two flights, one to Texas and one to Florida, where he and his dad got to spend a bunch of time together. Their little plane only has 230 horsepower and the top speed is about 170 mph. A trip to a place as far as Florida takes 13 hours. All of the time spent together has led to some bonding, and a few emotional moments as well. “He might not admit it, but I think my dad was pretty emotional the first time he saw me fly solo,” says James.When father and son take off together it, leaves one person on the ground slightly apprehensive. “My mom gets a little nervous, especially if the weather is bad,” he says of his mother Janet.The best thing about flying, says James, is that it is fun. He can soar through the numerous canyons and rock formations surrounding Eagle; and, he can do some basic aerial tricks like steep turns.”When you fly through the canyons, or really close to the ground, it gives you a real feel for how fast the plane is going,” he says.Flying into the futureEmbry Riddle is considered one of the top flight schools in the country. James says he’ll know pretty quickly whether or not he wants to turn his hobby into a career. “I’m pretty sure I want to be a pilot, but I am not positive yet because there is so much out there,” says James. “I love flying, but I don’t like doing the same thing day in and day out. That is what commercial aviation is, getting into a routine.”Commercial aviation is an expensive routine to get into. Costs are a factor, says dad. At around $160 per hour for training time on top of tuition, the bills can mount up fast, says Glen. Normally a commercial pilot needs 1,400-training hours. That works out to a little under $225,000, Glen says.
“It takes about as much time, and probably more money to become a pilot than it does to become a doctor,” says Glen.If the training becomes too expensive, James says he will consider the military, where pilots are paid as they train.”It’s an option I always consider in the back of my mind,” he says. “Commercial airlines like to hire pilots out of the military because it shows you have discipline and leadership ability.”The costs will help him stay focused on his studies, James adds. “It’s not like I am just going off to school to have fun,” he says. “It’s a different route than most people have taken. But I am glad I am trying it, and seeing if flying is really something I want to do for the rest of my life.”==========================================QUOTE”Along the highway, there is a lot of development. But once you get away from that little ribbon of highway, there is so much open space.”- James Ewing, pilot==========================================Vail, Colorado
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