Friday, January 30, 2015

No pilot's license, no problem: Flying for beginners

Light-sport planes in front of the Richard B. Helgeson Airport in Two Harbors. The local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter is hosting a speaker on February 5 to talk about the more affordable side of flying. Photo courtesy of Seth McDonald.

Seth McDonald of Two Harbors still remembers the first time he rode in a small airplane. He was 8 or 9 years old, his stepdad had a friend that was a pilot, and he took McDonald for a ride.

 It took McDonald almost 30 years to rekindle that love for flying. He joined the Two Harbors chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association four years ago, and is working towards getting his pilot's license.

McDonald, now the local EAA club vice president, said if he had known how affordable hobby flying is, he would have jumped in much sooner. Their EAA chapter is bringing a speaker to Two Harbors Feb. 5 to talk about ultralight planes, one of the least expensive and easiest ways to get into aviation. Ultralights are one-seater planes intended for recreational flying that can cost as low as $4,000 and require no pilot's license to fly.

"It's a big myth ... that these people are doctors and lawyers," McDonald said. "Yes, there may be a couple that are. But a vast majority of the folks are middle-class, blue collar guys and gals that are flying on a budget that is pretty tight."

The myth has its roots in fact — a small Cessna plane can cost more than $100,000 and requires a pilot's license with around 40 hours of flight time to fly. But McDonald and local EAA chapter president Mike Busch are on a mission to let people know that's not the only way to fly. Busch invited Timm Bogenhagen from the national EAA headquarters to speak in Two Harbors, and his talk will focus on ultralights.

"What we're trying to do with Timm's visit is to engage that part of the public that is interested in aviation but they've not taken that step because they've just said, 'Well, it's expensive. It's not for me,'" McDonald said.

Busch said another motive for the outreach is to get more young people involved in flying. He's been flying since he started working towards his pilot's license when stationed in Puerto Rico in the Navy in the 1960s. Today, professional pilots that are Busch's age are retiring in droves.

"There are a shortage of pilots even now. We're trying to grow some new ones," he said.

They have a Young Eagles program that takes kids up into the air, just like McDonald got the chance to do when he was young.

Busch said the Two Harbors EAA chapter focuses heavily on "homebuilt" aircrafts. About a half-dozen planes are being constructed at the Richard B. Helgeson Airport in Two Harbors right now, including Busch's own in his hangar. He pointed to the gearhead process of building a plane as something to expose aviation to people that don't yet know how to fly a plane. High-tech model planes are another easy way to learn about flying, McDonald pointed out.

"There are many facets of aviation," Busch said. "You don't have to be a pilot to get involved."

The talk on Feb. 5 is at 6:30 p.m. at the Two Harbors Community Center, 407 South Ave., Two Harbors. It's open to the public. The local EAA chapter meets every first Thursday at the community room in Two Harbors High School throughout winter and at the Two Harbors airport in the summer. They have grown the club from just a handful of members five years ago to around 30 now, and are always accepting new members, McDonald said.

"I don't care what you fly ... flying is flying," Busch said. "You depart from mother Earth, and you're up there in the ocean of air. You may be going a little faster or slower, but the feelings and the actions required are all about the same. It's just such a different feeling."

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