On a crystal-clear July Sunday afternoon, the future of pilot training on Orcas Island flew in on the wings of a 1993 Beechcraft Sundowner on July 21.
The recent purchase of the tan four-seat, four-cylinder low-wing aircraft by the island’s Airhawks Flying Club provides more training options for student pilots and increases flying opportunities for current pilots. The club’s former plane, a two-seater Cessna 162 Skycatcher, had limitations. The aircraft’s price tag was $52,000. The club secured a $30,000 loan from Islanders Bank and raised $22,000 in private donations.
“The differences between this plane and the last include its capacity to carry more weight, that it’s a four-seater versus a two-seater and it can be flown in rainy, overcast conditions,” explained Bob Waunch, the club’s secretary and treasurer. “Our former plane could only fly in good weather. Not the best arrangement for living in the Pacific Northwest.”
The path to obtaining a pilot’s license is long and requires airtime with a licensed instructor (the club has two) and time behind the instrument panel of a plane that can handle various weather conditions.
“This Beechcraft is that plane,” offered David Janecek, a pilot in training who flew alongside one of the club’s instructors on its virgin flight to Orcas, smoothly landing the craft in front of the assembled crowd. Like many working on obtaining a private pilot’s license, Janecek, a six-year island resident, needed time to become familiar with a plane like the Beechcraft to fulfill the necessary requirements. “Now I can get on with completing the training I need to qualify for my license. I’m very happy about that!”
Founded in 1994 as a means of encouraging new generations to take to the air, the Airhawks Flying Club offers educational programs for young people 9 to 18 years old. In 1999, the club chose to focus its funds on providing scholarships for any San Juan County resident. To date, 20 scholarships totaling $33,300 have helped 16 students obtain their private pilot’s license. The nonprofit Airhawks is looking to grow the organization and continue its focus on encouraging new pilots. The addition of the Beechcraft Sundowner supports that growth. To be a member of the club, it’s $500 to join and then $50 per month.
“We serve two kinds of members,” stated the club’s president Rick Fant. “The young student who wants to learn to fly, and the licensed pilot who may not have a plane. The ability to rent this plane provides broader benefits to licensed pilots, and the Beechcraft’s features offer greater opportunities to the student in training.”
“We’re also intent on introducing people to the absolute joy of flying,” enthused Waunch. “The thrill of seeing things from the air that others haven’t seen never gets old.”
To learn more about the Airhawks Flying Club, its scholarship program and rental arrangements, call Bob Waunch 360-376-2450.