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New pilot — it’s in his blood

The first things that came to my attention when I visited R.D. Whittington’s office at The Springs were the photos tacked on the walls surrounding his desk. One in particular got my attention: a cute, curly-haired blonde boy about three years old standing on the wing of a Piper aircraft alongside his Uncle Bill. Another photo of a twin Cessna, R.D. explained, was of him and his dad flying off the coast in Florida. R.D. doesn’t remember when he took his first flight; he has been flying ever since he can remember. Almost everyone in his family had their rating — his dad, his uncles.

The one flight R.D. will remember for the rest of his life is the one when he soloed for the first time.

This flight happened the evening of April 11. R.D. approached San Juan Flight Instructor Anne Kautzky at the beginning of February of this year looking to finally finish up his Private Pilot Certificate. He had began his training about five years ago in the Albuquerque, N.M., area, starting and stopping with different aircraft and instructors. With about 30 hours in his logbook, and countless hours flying in family aircraft, R.D. joined the San Juan Flyers club and determined to finish his training before the summer began.

Working with the tight schedules of both R.D. and his instructor, and with the springtime winds that Pagosa has been experiencing, R.D. was able to master all the pre-solo requirements, including a pre-solo written test, basic maneuvers such as 45 degree bank turns, minimum controllable airspeed, stall recovery and, most importantly, takeoffs and landings, unassisted. Each of these maneuvers are mastered in stages, the landing being the last and without a doubt the most frustrating. This is when the pucker factor is the greatest for most student pilots. Over the last few feet prior to touching down, the student must coordinate their eyes, depth perception, hand — the timing of the flare or pulling back on the yoke and feet, and the application of the correct amount of rudder in the right directions to keep the airplane traveling down the runway. Once the student is able to grasp this picture of the flare and touchdown, something clicks and the next thing they know, the instructor is getting out of the airplane and it’s time to do this by themself.

Upon arriving safely back on the ground, R.D. explained with a grin that during his solo flight, “Everything came naturally. I knew what I had to do and just did it. And did you see that second landing? It was so smooth!” R.D. went home that night flying high. There is no feeling in the world like it.

If you are interested in 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 a rate below current market fees.

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

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