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San Juan Flyers solos three student pilots

A person will go through several rites of passage on their way to attaining their private pilot’s license.

The first, and the one that will be remembered for a lifetime, is the first solo.

When starting to learn how to fly, most student pilots are starting with only the desire and dream to fly. The only experience these novice pilots can relate to is that of driving a car, which they soon find to be more of a hindrance than a help to them in taxiing and maneuvering the aircraft.

From the start, the whole experience is foreign to the beginner. On the ground, you steer the aircraft with your feet, controlling the speed with the use of a hand throttle. In the air, your world has another dimension added to it. You not only go forward and right and left (like an automobile), but now you also have the ability to go up and down. Now the trick is to keep everything coordinated — maintaining altitudes, headings and airspeeds at the same time while you are looking out for other traffic, keeping track of where you are and making radio calls.

In the late spring/early summer of this year, three of the San Juan Flyers, Inc. student pilot members began their journey in attaining their Private Pilot’s Certificate.

During the first week in November, these three student pilots found out what it was like to solo for the first time. Jon Reed soloed on Nov. 3; Sean Chopelas soloed on Nov. 5; and Rick Taylor soloed on Nov. 8.

For each, the time and number of hours it took to reach this accomplishment varied, but all had the same thought after soloing as Rick Taylor: “I had great instruction, from a very competent teacher and I knew what I was doing. ?Just do what I had been taught to do and not become a CNN news item.”

Chopelas added, “It was a great confidence builder. Knowing I was up here by myself and it was up to me to get the airplane back down on the ground in one piece.”

There is a lot to learn in those first 15-28 hours prior to the first solo. It has been likened to trying to drink from a fire hose. The Federal Aviation Regulations require the flight instructor to make sure the student pilot is proficient in maneuvers such as preflight, run-up, taxiing, straight and level flight, turns, emergency procedures, and, of course, takeoff and landings to name just a few.

The instructor must also be sure the student is knowledgeable in the areas of the regulations, airspace and operating limitations of the aircraft being flown. This is done through a written test and oral questions. The pre-solo phase is considered to be the most intense of the private pilot training and next to passing the check ride to receiving your certificate, the most rewarding stage of your flight training. You have gone from not even knowing how to start this machine to confidently flying the aircraft on your own.

How can you get started?

San Juan Flyers has been giving Pagosa Springs pilots the flying experience they want at a price they can afford. San Juan Flyers is a non-profit alternative to aircraft rental with two IFR single engine airplanes and its own hangar. The club also has three certified flight instructors and is able to offer both great training and convenient flying experiences into and out of Stevens Field-KPSO.

Whether you are just getting started or already have your pilot’s certificates, San Juan Flyers can keep your dream of flight alive. Membership in the San Juan Flyers provides each member with exceptionally low flying costs, full flight insurance, and educational opportunities at rates below current market fees.

For more information, call 731-3348, or e-mail