A Journey Through The Clouds With The Aviation Class

Anita Marto

Looking for a thrilling career? The aviation department trains both airplane and helicopter pilots for college credit. You too could be soaring like a bird, one with the sky.

Slideshow Media Credit: Anita Marto

Lucky me, as part of researching this article I got to fly with Alan Frazier, aviation department head and instructor, and two students. We were flying a Robinson R-44 four-seat helicopter from the Valley to Santa Barbara on a beautiful summer day. Tough assignment.

The pilot was Peter Pressnall, 46, a Glendale city police officer, well on his way to making his dream of a second career as a pilot into reality.

We were accompanied by Alex Montes, 21, an aviation major who hopes someday to be part of a search and rescue crew, one of many job options for a licensed pilot.

We all got into the craft, buckled up and put on our radio headphones. As we took off my first impression of the ride was that it wasn’t nearly as loud and bumpy as I’d expected. Before long we were high above the Valley, a sea of square boxes and kidney-shaped turquoise pools. The helicopter can fly up to a height of 13,000 feet, and soon were soaring above the mountains north of L.A.

Pressnall was wearing a visor over the top half of his face, he was practicing flying “blind”, using only the instrument panel to maneuver the craft. The view out of the helicopter was obscured by his visor. This made me just little bit nervous; especially over the ocean from Oxnard to Santa Barbara.

There really was nothing to worry about, especially with Frazier there. And heck, we were wearing our “Mae West” (so named because they blow up around your chest really big) life jackets.

One thing I noticed about these guys, all three, is how cool under pressure they were. We landed in Santa Barbara and headed for the Elephant bar, the airport restaurant. This flying stuff was getting better all the time.

After a hearty meal we flew back to Van Nuys. On the way back Pressnall practiced various kinds of approaches, such as approaching an airport through mist. We arrived back at Van Nuys safe and sound and I was a little bit “high” from the flying experience.

The next morning I got up at the crack of dawn to meet the guys at 7 a.m. at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima for a flight in a private plane. This was a college owned Cessna 172. Today we would be flying to Oxnard and around the Ventura County area. Pressnall would pilot on the outgoing flight and Montes on the way back.

The first thing I noticed was that the airplane was smoother and less noisy than the helicopter. To my surprise Frazier told me that both the airplane and the helicopter flew at about the same speed. I had always thought planes were faster.

The view from the plane was amazing but a little less all-encompassing than the helicopter and a little harder to shoot photos from. Once again Pressnall gave a stellar performance.

The next thing I knew we were having breakfast at the Camarillo Airport cafe. These meal breaks were one of the most fun aspects of the whole experience. Often people fly to the cafe, for what they call the “hundred dollar hamburger,” a reference to how much it costs to fly there.

On the way back to Whiteman Montes took the controls. I learned that this was only his second time flying an airplane. But, like I indicated before, these guys were cool as cucumbers. We arrived home safe and sound.

To get a pilot’s license one has to follow a very structured curriculum involving logging airtime while successfully demonstrating one’s competence at various flying skills. The number of hours it takes to demonstrate the required skills depends on a student’s ability and talent.

The student also has to pay for the hours in the craft, whether a helicopter or an airplane. The helicopter costs about $425 an hour to fly while an airplane is considerably less expensive at about $100 per hour. That may seem like a lot of money. It really isn’t compared to the cost of going to college for a lot of other professional careers.

As Montes said, “flying isn’t an impossible dream.”

All one has to do is take action. The aviation department can help make that dream a reality.

For more information contact the aviation department at (818) 240-1000, ext. 5542.