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Be A Pilot lets fledgling fliers test their wings


Jason Parker, a 31-year-old financial consultant for Wells Fargo Investments in Private Client Services division, says he has always been intrigued with flying. While attending high school, he took a few lessons, but he didn’t stick with it. Then, in the summer of 2002, he decided to give it another try. He contacted Elliott Aviation to ask about lessons, and they recommended he contact Be A Pilot, a Washington, D.C.-based program that connects potential aviators with flight schools and lets the students receive an introductory flight for $49.

“They actually let you fly that first time, and it’s is usually enough to get you hooked,” Parker said. “It’s almost like riding a roller coaster for the first time. You’ve got that nervous energy, you’re anxious, but it’s at your fingertips. You grasp the yoke, push the throttle in, and you start moving, 60, 70 miles per hour. Then, when the plane lifts off…it’s a new feeling, one you’ll never have again.”

“Between 58 and 66 percent of the people who take that Be A Pilot flying lesson continue on with flight training,” said Drew Steketee, president and CEO of the organization. “It’s probably not as complicated as people might think. Most people’s misconceptions go back to the World War II bomber movies. In fact, most of the time, flying an aircraft is like sitting in a comfortable chair in your living room. The real challenge is staying alert because it’s so relaxing.”

Parker isn’t the only one testing his wings. According to Be A Pilot, so far this year, 147 Iowans have submitted requests for first flight certificates. It hopes to garner more clients soon, due to promotions run in connection with the Burlington Regional Airshow Sept. 20.

Parker got his private pilot’s license in January, and hopes to soon receive instrument rating, which will allow him to fly in cloudy or foggy conditions when it is necessary to use the plane’s instrument panel to navigate. Parker has also joined the Foxtrot Flying Club, a local aviation group that offers its members the opportunity to rent its six planes.

For his job, Parker says he takes care of three offices in Knoxville, Pella and Indianola, but he also has clients in Des Moines, Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha and Kansas City. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a commercial flight or drive to Omaha, which would take five hours round-trip, he can fly 45 minutes each way for a just $58 per hour and the cost of aviation fuel. He says the just time it saves him makes flying worthwhile.

“Flying is great for busy people, because [they] have a hard time juggling the responsibilities of a career and maintaining commitments to their families,” Steketee said. “There just aren’t enough hours in the day.” Piloting a private plane not only saves time compared with driving, but sometimes compared with commercial flights as well. There are no long lines and elaborate check-in processes, no sitting on the plane waiting for all the other passengers to get on board and for the pilots to be ready to take off. After the flight, there’s no need to head to the baggage claim to watch a seemingly endless parade of identical luggage glide by.

Parker says upon receiving his instrument rating, he will probably fly 35 or 40 percent for business, but mostly for pleasure. Nonetheless, he says it’s been a useful business tool and a conversation-starter that never fails to break the ice. To anyone considering a similar hobby, Parker’s advice is clear.

“Do it,” he said. “You’ll never regret it. Take the opportunity to test the waters. Be A Pilot makes it so easy, and the longer you wait, the more excuses you’ll find.”

“It’s a different world up there,” said Steketee. “It’s a beautiful world.”

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