The skies above Idaho yield some of the best views, and private pilots love to fly here. I am taking my first leap into these skies. Though I have flown on commercial carriers many times at Boise's Gowen Field, now a certified flight instructor (CFI) will guide me aloft.
Student pilots have several reliable training aircraft to choose from. Most numerous in the training fleet are the Cessna 172 and Piper Tomahawk. Thousands of pilots logged their first hours in these planes. Today, we will fly the Diamond Star DA40-FP. It is a thoroughly modern design built with advanced composites. Its state-of-the-art avionic and navigational systems allow flying through our swiftly changing Idaho weather.
Ian Bock of Jetstream Aviation is my instructor. He is a third-generation pilot, licensed to fly before he was licensed to drive. He can fly anything with wings, pistons and propellers. We meet to discuss the aircraft and lesson. The meeting is short. We are here to fly.
On the tarmac, we approach the aircraft to begin a walk-around inspection, checking the overall appearance of the plane. We examine the control surfaces, making sure they move freely. Entering the aircraft, I note it is much like strapping into a sports car. The cabin is small but not cramped. Inside, breakers, switches and gauges are checked. The pre-flight check is complete.
I turn the key, and the engine bursts to life. Pushing full throttle, we scan the instrument panel, ensuring everything reads ready for takeoff. I'll handle 90 percent of the flight tasks while Bock operates the radios, ready to add a little control input if I need help. A call to Boise ground control and we are cleared to the active runway. During taxi, we talk about what makes flying in Idaho special. Gowen and surrounding airfields provide access to endless cruising above the Snake River Plain, a perfect training environment for developing pilots. Experienced pilots cruise the skies over Idaho's mountains. The most daring aviators land safely on numerous backcountry airstrips.
At RW28R (280 degrees, right runway), we hold, ready for takeoff. As Ian contacts Boise Tower for clearance, a Navy FA-18 Hornet rockets into the sky before us. One of the thrills of flying from Gowen is that pilots are able to "play with the big boys." Commercial and military aircraft abound, adding challenge from taxi to takeoff to landing.
Cleared for takeoff, I roll the plane to center line and ease the throttle to 100 percent. The aircraft accelerates crisply to 59 knots. Easing back on the stick, the wings conquer gravity. The Diamond Star zips effortlessly into the air. Once aloft, the aircraft is agile, easy to fly. On the ground, it was a cumbersome three-wheeled car.
On the wing, my perspective changes. I note the beauty of the landscape that unfolds beneath. State Street seems short. Emmett, Horseshoe Bend, Bogus Basin appear near. Bock asks if I am familiar with local geography. Affirmative! He hands me the plane to take it where I wish. I turn right to Bogus, offering a wing wave to our snow-sliding friends. We circle and fly over Robie Creek, which appears as a dry ditch from a mile above. Lucky Peak, Arrowrock and Anderson Ranch pass to our left as we request landing clearance from Boise Tower.
During descent, we complete a final checklist. Clearance received, we begin one of the two most critical elements of flight: for every takeoff, there must be a landing. As we approach, two commercial passenger liners take their turns landing in front of us. Boise Tower calls us, "Number one to land." I point the nose to the runway and extend full flaps. As we reach 50 feet above ground level, Ian takes control, settling us gracefully on the runway.
A private pilot certificate is easily within reach for anyone wishing to take to the skies. The first step is choosing a flight school and instructor. Student pilots spend many hours with an instructor in the cockpit. The student should interview prospects, keeping in mind their aviation goals. Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA.org) has assisted pilots since 1939. Their goal is to keep aviation accessible. They can help prospective pilots find affiliated instruction centers. The Treasure Valley hosts many independent instruction centers as well. All are staffed with capable, professional instructors.
A career in flight is also attainable. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offers a full curriculum for those desiring to enter the aviation industry. Other institutions exist, so as with private instruction, it pays to shop for the most suitable school to meet your goals.
Remember, most introductory flights are steeply discounted. If the desire to fly descends upon you, take advantage of it. And, maybe I'll see you looking down.: For more information, visit www.projectpilot.org.