Mandy and Brian Onstad, of Wheatland, Wisconsin
When parents see their child graduate high school, oftentimes the child embarks on a new journey at a college or university away from home, leaving the parents without their presence.
However, when the recent graduate plans to play NCAA Division 1 collegiate softball – which requires long-distance travel to compete for their new school – it poses a challenge for parents.
For parents who want to see their child play on road trips, they are forced to make the same long-distance trips, but Wheatland’s Brian and Mandy Onstad prepared after their daughter, Chyanne, graduated from Westosha Central High School.
Currently, Chyanne attends the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
The Onstands other two children are Amanda, 27, and Britan, who is 26.
“I went to get my pilot’s license, so that when my daughter went to college to play softball, we could easily fly around to watch her play,” said Brian, who received his license at Aeris Aviation at the Sylvania Airport in Sturtevant.
Brian, who has held his license for 1 1/2 years, has flown to a handful of states, including Colorado, Minnesota and Indiana using a Diamond DA40 model plane stored at the Sylvania Airport.
The pilot’s license and access to a plane, he said, gives the family another benefit when their daughter wants to pay a weekend visit.
“It has been great so far, because it gives plenty of freedom to go and do what you want,” Brian said. “We have flown up (to Green Bay) to pick up Chy for dinner or to bring her home for the weekend.”
While Green Bay is a short trip, they have taken longer flights, including Colorado to see Chy play softball.
“We have had a blast with flying ourselves where we want to go. So far our longest trip has been to Boulder for a softball tournament,” Brian said.
Flying for themselves has created a new freedom, one where they don’t have to book a trip with a commercial airline for trips. It gives the family more flexibility.
“You get to set your own schedule and not deal with flying commercial flights,” Brian said.
The freedom to fly, however, takes extensive training with a certified flight instructor and a set of responsibilities.
Brian, like others before and after him, need to take written exams and log hours in the air with a certified instructor.
“(It) takes 90 days to a year depending on how the person is,” said Brian, adding course costs vary between $8,000-$10,000 at Sylvania.
Greg Smith, who serves as treasurer for the nonprofit Westosha Flying Club, is one flight instructor offering the freedom to fly.
Smith, who received a Private Pilot License in 2000, later earned accreditation as a Master Flight Instructor through the National Association of Flight Instructors.
Through his experiences, he has guided several students through the process of receiving their pilot certificate.
Like Brian, Smith cited freedom as a primary motivator for people to earn a pilot certification, with ideal trips already planned.
“Some have a destination already in mind – vacation home, child at school, out of town relatives. Some just find the destination after they get their certificate,” Smith said.
The certification process, he said, takes months to complete.
“Consider the amount of time that getting your pilot certification is going to take,” Smith said. “You should figure it’ll take nine months to a year for most people with a day job and family to get their certificate.”
For those willing to put in the time, dedication is another recommendation.
“Make certain that you can spend at least twice a week taking lessons, and then figure on two to four hours a week studying,” said Smith. “The more consistent you fly and study the easier and quicker you’ll have that certificate.”
According to the Westosha Flying Club website, the Federal Aviation Administration has set requirements for people to earn their certificate.
Requirements consist of a minimum of 40 hours total flight time, including 20 with a certified instructor and the purchase of course materials and exam costs.
“If you were able to become proficient in this minimum time, it would cost approximately $4,650,” the website stated.
“While this represents a minimum cost if completed in the minimum time, your actual costs will probably run higher. This is due to very few people being ready for the practical test in minimum 40 hours.”
The national average is 80 hours, the website stated.
While costs are high, the website noted fees could get spread out over time, making payments manageable.
Flying clubs beneficial
At Westosha Flying Club, Smith noted several member benefits, including social engagement and cost savings.
Smith, a part owner of five different aircraft, acknowledged maintenance and upkeep for an airplane.
“The social aspect of being around people who have similar likes, buying and maintaining an aircraft is an expensive endeavor and sharing those costs among a group makes it much more affordable,” said Smith. “It is also time consuming to upkeep an aircraft so the club will take care of those things and the aircraft will be ready when you want to use it.”
Westosha Flying Club, a membership of 85 people, have hosted social activities and flown to other clubs holding social events of their own.
Most recently, the Westosha Flying Club hosted a Flying Social Hamburger event last summer.
“We do some fly-in events to other airports for breakfast/lunch, and we do a club plane wash twice a year,” Smith said.
Additionally, Smith states members have paired up for expeditions.
“Members often join up to split the costs of flying to a mutual destination,” said Smith.
Smith, who has traveled to regional destinations, enjoys the challenges that come with his expeditions.
“The thing that I enjoy the most with taking a trip somewhere is the satisfaction of planning a successful trip in spite of things that comes up,” said Smith, noting unpredictable weather, airspace constraints and other flight issues.