The Wild Blue Yonder in Our own Backyard

By Brydon Marks on November 12, 2007

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For most people, flying is something to dream about. If they want to get into the sky and soar among billowy, white clouds on a sunny, spring day, they will have to pack themselves elbow to elbow with strangers in a crowded, jumbo jet at a smoggy, big-city airport. For most people, airplanes are about transportation, not about freedom or escape. However, most people do not live with Parrott Field in their backyard or with easy access to a flight training program, as we do at Pacific Union College.

This year, PUC's technology department began offering a B.S. degree in aviation. This exciting, new major is designed to prepare students for everything from piloting for major airlines or commercial cargo operations to medical evacuation and missions flying. However, there are rich resources left for those of us who just want to get off the ground. Allan Payne, the airport's director and the chief instructor in aviation, estimates that anyone can earn a pilot's license in about two quarters, English or business majors alike. Some faculty members have even begun to realize that there is no reason to let students have all the fun.

Gary Gifford, associate academic dean, is currently enrolled, along with several students, in ground school. He said that the training appealed to him because he would like to be able to fly to Washington to visit his father, an airplane mechanic who also has a pilot's license and who has taken him flying in the past. One of his long-standing dreams is to reconstruct and fly a small aircraft someday with his father.

At PUC, earning your wings is simple. There is a single required class, AVIA 175, Private Pilot Theory, which prepares students for the written exam as well as the actual experience of flight. The hopeful pilot must also complete a total of 55 hours of in-flight instruction with a flying instructor. Although most students prefer to stretch their training out over two quarters because of scheduling limitations, Payne says that it could all be accomplished in one quarter if the student were able to dedicate his time to flight.

In addition to being close at hand, this flight school is also extremely competitive financially. Allan Payne estimates that our average fee for airplane use is between $37 and $40 an hour, beating Napa's fees by about $10 an hour. Likewise, our instructor fees are around $20 an hour, $8 less than other airports. In addition to its lower prices, Payne says that the school will also assist with the costs for PUC faculty and staff. Over the course of a year, he estimates, a thousand dollars could easily be saved.

Unlike other airports, Parrott Field does not benefit from county, city, state, or federal support. It also does not benefit directly from school funds or students' tuition. Instead, it supports itself by renting out aircraft and tie-down spaces, selling fuel, and offering training and other services to the community. Many of its customers are tourists, flying in to visit the Napa valley, its wineries and scenery. These new-comers, Payne says, often end up touring the school grounds, enjoying the beauty and serenity of our campus, and asking what PUC is all about. The explanation is readily given.

Allan Payne was a missionary pilot for many years before he came to PUC. He organized supplies, church support, and medical teams in the jungles of Peru and Bolivia and in the mountains of Mexico. In fact, he may be the most experienced missionary pilot currently on staff at any Adventist university, making PUC one of the best qualified schools to prepare those interested in missionary piloting for the adventures that lie ahead of them.

Whether you feel the need to enter into aviation ministry or have simply dreamed of soaring through the sky, Parrott Field and the flight training program may be your answer. Make a phone call or take a walk and find out what is resting in our own backyard.