Monday, October 29, 2012

Heber, Utah: Pilot finds his passion in the cockpit ... OK3Air - Heber City Municipal Airport- Russ McDonald Field (36U)

Luke Watters, right, instructs Eric Petersen during a flight lesson on October 17, 2012. Watters, the chief flight instructor at OK3 Air in Heber City, trains pilots as well as flies clients to remote locations using a backcountry plane. 
Photo: Daily Herald, James Roh / AP 

Luke Watters ducks under the plane's wing as he prepares to take off from a dirt landing strip near Mexican Mountain in southern Utah on October 18, 2012. Watters, the chief flight instructor at OK3 Air in Heber City, trains pilots as well as flies clients to remote locations using a backcountry plane. 
Photo: Daily Herald, James Roh / AP

PROVO, Utah (AP) — The sun begins to heat the cool morning air at Heber City's Russ McDonald Airfield as OK3 Air's chief flight instructor, Luke Watters, and student Eric Petersen prepare for a midday flight lesson. 

 Within minutes the plane takes to the air and aims for the backside of Mount Timpanogos. Provo Canyon's popular Bridal Veil Falls and Vivian Park pass underneath, and eventually the canyon gives way to the vastness of Utah Valley.

After successfully running through several mock situations and a touch-and-go at the Provo Airport, the plane heads back east to the airfield.

The next day Watters has plans to fly several passengers to a remote environment near Mexican Mountain in southern Utah to hike and explore the area's petroglyphs. This involves landing a plane on a 1,500-foot airstrip in the crack of a narrow canyon. The following week doesn't look to be any less exciting as Watters is scheduled to spend the week training students to perform stunts in an aerobatic plane.

It should be noted that none of this is out of the ordinary for the pilot.

"This job was meant for me," Watters said. "It's definitely the perfect fit."

Watters' job description is bit unusual, especially when compared to typical flight instructors. Part flight instructor and part guide, Watters does everything from instructing novice pilots to specialty training for advanced pilots to taking clients to remote areas only accessible by plane.

For the latter, clients are free to explore or listen to Watters explain the history and geology of the area. Watters's outdoorsy nature and enthusiasm about Utah belies the fact that he has only been living in the state for five months.

Prior to OK3 Air, the Montana native held several aviation jobs, including a contracting job flying drones in Afghanistan for the U.S. military. In fact, Watters intended on accepting a job doing similar work for a company in California upon his arrival back in the United States.

However, after Watters' wife passed along information on OK3 Air's job opening, Watters reconsidered his options. Once Watters saw that there was a possibility to fly and train in an aerobatic plane, the decision became clear.

"When this opportunity came up, it was just too good to pass up," Watters said.

Aerobatic planes provide the freedom and romance of flying that Watters has been infatuated with since deciding to become a pilot in fourth grade. An admitted adrenaline junkie, Watters is certain commercial flying or an office job just wouldn't cut it.

"My whole life I've tried to figure out how I can guide my career path to own or operate an aerobatic plane," Watters said. "Every time I go out to that airplane I have a stupid grin on my face. I can't believe I get paid to do this."

Despite only being with OK3 Air for a short amount of time, Watters' hard work hasn't gone unnoticed.

"He's energized the flight school," said OK3 Air's president and owner, Nadim Abuhaidar. "There's a lot of people that can fly but there's not a lot of people who have a true passion for it."

Watters' great working relationship with Abuhaidar and other coworkers only reinforces his decision to become a flight instructor with OK3 Air.

"I'm building a house right now," Watters said matter-of-factly. "I don't plan on moving."

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