IDAHO FALLS – Have you ever looked up into the sky at a passing plane and wondered what it would feel like to be inside the cockpit with a bird’s-eye view of the earth?
This is a thrilling thought for many people, including Idaho Falls resident Jon Parker.
“When I was a little kid, both of my grandpas were pilots,” Parker tells EastIdahoNews.com. “I went flying with (my paternal grandfather) multiple times and I’ve always been interested in aviation.”
After high school, Parker was accepted to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, one of the premier flight schools in the country. Plans changed, however, and he ended up pursuing another career path.
But Parker never gave up on his dream. In 2010, he finally got his private pilot’s license.
“I flew pretty regularly for three or four years and then life happened. My kids got older and got involved in a thousand things. My career developed and I stopped flying,” Parker says.
Last year, he wanted to get back into it and started looking for places to rent a plane. Renting a plane for recreational purposes was not available anywhere in Idaho Falls, he says.
He later met Dustin Woodhouse, a local pilot who had managed a flying club in Hillsboro, Oregon where Woodhouse previously lived. This was a place where pilots and aviation buffs could interact with likeminded people and have access to a plane and other resources at an affordable price.
Intrigued by the idea, Woodhouse and Parker gathered a group of fellow pilots and formed a similar group in eastern Idaho. It’s a nonprofit under the name Eastern Idaho Flying Club.
“Those of us that are general aviation pilots love to fly, and having access to an airplane was the main impetus to say ‘Let’s get together and form a club,'” says Parker.
Parker is one of the club’s board members, along with Colter Hansen. Woodhouse is the club president. Kathryn Curl is also a major contributor to the board and helped secure financing for a Cessna 172 airplane for the group.
Aviation as a hobby
Since the club was formed in October, Parker says he’s seen an increasing number of people expressing interest in aviation.
“(People) will (often) say to me, ‘I’ve always dreamed of flying.’ My response almost every time is ‘Let’s go,'” he says. “There’s nothing better than flying and being in the air…especially in southeast Idaho.”
Eastern Idaho offers a wealth of backcountry flying opportunities, Parker says, but there are several factors that prevent people from pursuing it. One of those is concerns about safety, which may stem from several high-profile plane crashes last year with ties to eastern Idaho.
Heise Hot Springs Owners Mike and Robin Quinn died in a plane crash near Jackpot, Nevada in November. A week later, 12 members of the Jim and Kirk Hansen family crashed shortly after takeoff during a family hunting trip in South Dakota.
“Those crashes last year impacted a lot of people, including our group. We had several members that were close to both of those families,” Hansen says. (Colter is not related to Jim or Kirk Hansen).
Though flying an airplane does come with risks, Hansen says tragedies like these are uncommon. Safety is a pilot’s number one priority, he says.
“Since we formed the club, we have a lot more interaction and discussion about safety items,” Parker says. “It comes back to pilot decision-making, training and practice.”
Parkers recalls an instance last week when a club member decided to abort a flight after noticing something with the plane he’d never encountered before. Though it turned out to be a non-issue, Parker says it was a wise decision.
“Every one of us are a better pilot today because of his decision,” Hansen says. “Making the go or no-go call is at the pilot’s discretion and comfort level.”
Other factors that prevent people from flying are associated with cost or not knowing how to get started.
Hansen says learning to fly is easier to achieve than people think. The aviation industry is a tight-knit group and having connections with people in the club can help members achieve their goals, he says.
Fifteen people have joined the club since its formation. Anyone is welcome to apply. The cost is $125 a month and there is an annual $600 fee for insurance. A portion of the monthly dues go towards flights for members.
“Go for a discovery flight. Check out the airplane. Come to one of our club meetings and see how other people are passionate about this hobby or career,” Hansen says.
Members are required to pass a background check. The group meets the second Wednesday of every month inside the Red Barron Hangar at 2381 Foote Drive in Idaho Falls. Visit the website or Facebook page to learn more.