LEARNING TO FLY
By Ray Linker
Observer Staff Writer
Stuart Sholund, who lives just off the east side of the La Grande-Union County Airport, said he had "always wanted to learn to fly."
Now he's in the process of doing just that and said he has no regrets. His instructors are Jesse and Katie Bliss, who own and operate Valley Air from their hangar and offices at the airport.
"Learning to fly has been a lot of fun one of the most fun things I've ever done," Sholund said.
He said he has enjoyed learning how the plane works, getting a lot of training in such things as the safety aspects of flying as well as in such things as navigation.
"I've got more confidence in planes now and in flying. Flying is safer than driving a car," Sholund said.
Jesse is the flight instructor, handling the in-the-air aspects of the training. Katie is the ground instructor getting students accustomed to the Cessna 150, a two-seat plane. The couple started the business here less than a year ago.
So far, they have produced five pilots.
"It takes about 50 to 60 hours of flight time to get your private pilots licenses," Jesse said. Of course, in addition to the actual time in the air, there is a certain amount of time gaining knowledge needed to be able to fly, the couple said. This includes navigational skills and learning about weather.
They've got four students now who are flying "and we will add more as it gets into summer and the weather becomes halfway decent," Katie said.
Part of the instructors' jobs is to make sure the trainees are well prepared for the federal exams needed to earn the license to fly.
The Federal Aviation Administration examiner will come to La Grande to give the tests, the Blisses said. The test includes a knowledge test, making certain the candidates understands the rules of flying. The practical aspects of the tests come when the trainee demonstrates his or her knowledge of flying.
The Blisses say their training program is divided into three parts: (1) getting the trainee to fly by himself or herself, (2) teaching cross-country travel, including learning about navigation and interacting with air traffic controllers, and (3) preparing students for their FAA practical tests.
La Grande is not all that busy an airport and therefore an ideal location to learn to fly, the instructors said.
"But we put a lot of emphasis on safety, making sure they are well educated for situations and activity they made run into in busier airports," Katie said.
"Another reason this is a nice area to learn in is that we can teach mountain flying, dealing with different aspects, including how to relate the plane's capabilities to air density, learning how to factor the weight and balance of the aircraft. And this is just a beautiful valley to fly in," said Katie.
Jesse said, "There are a lot of varying weather patterns here we have to be in tune with."
He said "students get a lot of training here you wouldn't get in other places," such as dealing with icing up at altitude in winter months.
For those who aren't sure they'd like to learn to fly, they offer "an introductory flight so people can find out if flying is something in their blood."
Jesse said, "It's an enjoyable flight, with a little instruction in taxiing and assistance on takeoff, learning some other basics, such as leveling out and turning."
Jesse got his instructor's license in John Day in 1975 while working for the Oregon Forestry Department. He retired as a radio technician for the Northeast Oregon District.
But he, like Sholund, has "always been interested in flying. I saw an old plane in a field, bought it, learned to fly and got my rating."
He was in military service in 1956-1959 but not in flying then.
Now he has about 1,000 hours of flight instruction time.
He said the business is doing well.
"There's quite a bit of interest. A high percentage of those who come out (to get training) finish getting their pilot's license.
"And it's fun," Jesse said. "We have a lot of good experiences."