It’s a dream many of us have had over since we were young, flying freely in the air above the constraints of the roads.
Brett Engel is a fight student who is in his third week of training.
“It’s pretty amazing. When you’re driving a car you get to see everything, but you really don’t. You just get to see the face of what you’re looking at. But from the air, you get to see everything,” said Engel.
Casey Eicholtz knows just what it takes to be a pilot. Eicholtz works for Northern Air, a flight school based out of Murray Field in Eureka.
“It’s a little more intense than driving, not saying that it’s extremely difficult. You can do it, but there is a broader knowledge, per se, than the driver’s license,” said Eicholtz.
The training process behind attaining a pilot’s license could be rather lengthy in time.
“To get a private license, the minimum is 40 hours. If you’re dedicated and you fly every day and you study, you can get it done in three to six months. Some people fly once or twice a month, and they could take two years to get it. It just depends how motivated and dedicated you are. You have to know everything about the regulations and the laws, you have to know how the airplane works, how the engine works, how the flight control system works, how the electrical system works and how the weather works. You have to know a little bit about everything,” said Eicholtz.
One of the biggest things that area pilots have to contend with is something many folks in the North Coast at very familiar with.
“The fog is the one thing that really holds us back,” said Eicholtz.
And for the most basic pilot’s license, you need to stay away from the clouds.
“The biggest struggle here is that we’re training private pilots, and to get a private’s license, you don’t fly in the clouds. You have to stay 500 feet below, 1,000 feet above, 2,000 feet horizontal and you have to have the miles visibility,” said Eicholtz.
“In the morning, it could be real bad, but in the afternoon, it could clear up…so sometimes you just don’t know,” Engel.
Yes, it’s obvious that your sightlines diminish within the clouds, but there is another danger as well.
“Because of the coldness we have here in the winter, we also have to be aware of the icing levels,” said Eicholtz.
Cold temperatures could create condensation on the propeller and the wings, starting a chain of events that might lead to a loss of stability and engine failure. But even when sunny skies prevail on the warmest of days, there is yet another danger.
“Basically the wind, and how the plane is going to react at the surface and up to the elevation we are going to be flying at,” said Engel.
All of this has not stopped dozens of future pilots from signing up for lessons.
“Yeah, there’s a waiting list. We have about 40 students on the waiting list right now,” said Eicholtz.
If you’re the many folks who can’t afford the roughly $12,000 price tag that goes along with the training process, you can head over to Humboldt State University and practice on the flight simulator located in the school’s library.
Sarah Kanga Livingstone is a student at HSU, majoring in wildlife management, but she hopes to become a pilot, too.
”Yes, I’ve crashed and burned my first time. I’ve crashed and burned my first few times, and that’s why I’m doing it on a fake airplane as opposed to a real one,” said Kanga Livingstone.
Kanga Livingstone, along with other students associated with the university’s personal computer gaming club, raised money and put together the state of the art flight simulator.
”It’s pretty accurate, especially because of all of the instruments we have. We have our rudders, we have our yolk. We have three different instruments,” said Kanga Livingstone.
The simulator is open for anyone in the community to try out.
”There are no forms to fill out. You can just jump right on in. This is a project that is open to the entire community, and so we want to make it as accessible as possible,” said Kanga Livingstone.
Kanga Livingstone says the feeling of flying on the computer can be thrilling, as well.
”It such a feeling of accomplishment. You’ve finally made it on the ground. It’s a little bit bumpy, but your wheels are there, you’re intact. You’re nose isn’t broken,” said Kanga Livingstone.
And even though the simulator will make your heart race, Engel says there’s nothing like actually being in the air.
“It’s great just to be able to get up there and see the world from a different angle,” said Engel.
“Do it. It’s the best thing in the world. Life in the air, especially when you’re solo taking off in the air, with nobody else around, it’s just the best feeling you can do,” said Eicholtz.