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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Taking in Wallowa County from the sky

Taking in Wallowa County from the sky

The Chief Joseph Flyers is a 30-member club that has been around since 1946. The club, which is thought to be the oldest in Oregon, has members from student pilots to commercial pilots to all levels in between. (Katy Nesbitt/The Observer)
The Chief Joseph Flyers is a 30-member club that has been around since 1946. The club, which is thought to be the oldest in Oregon, has members from student pilots to commercial pilots to all levels in between. (Katy Nesbitt/The Observer)
 

For a pilot, Wallowa County’s airspace is a breath of fresh air — very little air traffic, amazing scenery and altitude that can be an exciting challenge for those used to taking off closer to sea-level.

Saturday, the Wallowa County Pilot’s Association hosted a sourdough pancake breakfast at the Joseph Airport and the Chief Joseph Flyers Club took more than 80 people for rides over Wallowa Lake and the valley. The two organizations offer a variety of small-plane flying experiences.

Brian Adelhardt said the Chief Joseph Flyers is a 30-member club that has been around since 1946. Adelhardt is relatively new to the area, moving from his native Maryland to Wallowa Lake a few years ago.

“I started learning to fly in Maryland and finished my license here. The Harford County airport is at 400 feet and Enterprise and Joseph are over 4,000 feet. 

“Planes perform differently at altitude — it was a mental change of gear,” Adelhardt said. “When you take off from here — any direction you go there is terrific scenery and no air traffic.”

Adelhardt said the Pilot’s Association, a chapter of the Idaho Aviation Association, is also an active group. 

One of its missions is to work on back country strips to get the ruts out for those who like to recreate in the back country.

“It’s helpful to have strips maintained and the pilots love to fly and land places not ‘land-able.’ It’s a community contribution at the same time helping make these strips more accessible in cases of emergency,” Adelhardt said.

The club, which is thought to be the oldest in Oregon, has members from student pilots to commercial pilots to all levels in between, according to Adelhardt.

Some of the members live in Wallowa County full time, while others come in one or two times a year, Adelhardt said. But they all pay $50 quarterly dues that cover the mortgage for a hangar at the Joseph Airport and
insurance. The $70-an-hour fee pays for fuel and maintenance for the plane.

“Every 2,000 hours, the plane is overhauled. So, $20,000 is set aside in an engine fund for the 1976 Cessna 172,” Adelhardt said.

Five years ago it had a complete overhaul by local airplane mechanic Dave Young, who works out of the Enterprise airport.

The club’s membership is revolving and memberships are available for sale, Adelhardt said. 

Applications are available by calling 443-504-7016.

Interest is up and Adelhardt said the club is talking about adding another plane, perhaps a light-sport aircraft that requires a lesser grade of license and fewer hours necessary to earn a license, which is less expensive.

“A sport license can also be a step toward a professional license,” Adelhardt said.

Like many other recreational pilots, Adelhardt said when he travels, he rents a plane to get a birds-eye view of the surroundings — like Key West, Fla., and Hawaii.

Club member Barney Locke grew up in Wallowa County when his nuclear physicist father, Gardner, was convinced by their mother to move to the valley from Richland, Wash. 

Locke flew for Delta Airlines and, after he retired, for Sri Lankan Airlines.

“Small airplane flying is fun and a lot different than flying an airline,” Locke said.

In town from his home in Santa Rosa, Calif., for his father’s memorial service, he took dozens of people into the sky to see the valley from the air this weekend.

“This club is such a small-town thing. You wouldn’t see this in a big city,” Locke said.

 
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