Perham Area Chamber of Commerce volunteer Amanda Monahan and the chamber’s associate director, Emily Rutten recently visited Wings Flight Training in Perham, based at the Perham Municipal Airport west of town on County Highway 80.
Rutten and Monahan visited with the business’s owner, Rich McCrady, and Amanda Homelvig, the director of marketing at Wings.
“I was excited to go visit Wings Flight Training, but had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Monahan said. “Emily and I were fortunate enough to go for a ‘Discovery Flight’ with Rich and Amanda. These ‘Discovery Flights’ are something they do often at Wings, whether it is someone who just wants to go for a ride or someone who is interested in training to become a pilot.”
Although Wings was established in 2012, McCrady has more than 50 years of experience in the field of aviation.
Rutten said McCrady owns the hangar where the three airplanes are stored, and he leases the office from the township.
Additional staff at Wings include: Kent Thompson, chief flight instructor, and Luke Stromme, manager of operations and flight instructor. Wings is also looking to add a part-time flight instructor.
“As the name indicates, Wings offers flight training for any variety of purposes: general aviation or someone looking to become a commercial pilot,” Rutten said. “General aviation includes all civilian flying except scheduled passenger airlines.”
Aviation is vital in terms of structure of the United States, said Rutten after the visit. General aviation contributes more than $150 billion to the U.S. economy and provides more than 1,265,000 jobs, Rutten said, adding that, in Minnesota, the impact is $12.2 billion annually on the state’s network of 135 public airports
“Aviation is one of the fastest growing fields, and the number of pilots is running out,” Rutten said after speaking with McCrady. “No one wanted to fly after 9/11, so many young pilots were laid off and the ones with seniority stayed on. Now, those pilots are retiring, but there isn’t a group below them to take over.”
However, McCrady said, “The most dangerous part of flying is driving to the airport.”
“More than anything, Wings educates people on the life or death responsibility that you have in a plane,” Rutten said. “You are not just responsible for yourself and your passengers, but also the other aviators in the air, along with their passengers.”
The Federal Aviation Administration regulates the process of earning a private pilot certificate. These regulations are published in a thick manual every year.
“It is a very intense and time consuming training,” Monahan said of the pilot-training process. “It requires written tests along with many hours of training.”
Wings’ “Flight Club,” allows students and pilots to get reduced lease rates on aircraft.
In order to make the training more accessible, last year, a community education course that revolved around basic ground education in a cockpit was added. Of the 17 students who signed up, all of them finished.
Wings is also in the process of developing a “First Officers Club,” which would be targeted primarily at significant others who fly with aviators. The club’s purpose would be to educate these frequent passengers on basic emergency procedures, should the need arise.
Other plans for the future include purchasing a flight simulator.
“Rich noted that way, you can stop and make corrections or discuss a specific situation,” Monahan said of the benefits of the simulator. “When in the air, you can’t just pull over and have a discussion.”
Coming up on Saturday, Aug. 1 will be the Second Annual Lakes Country Fly-Inn and Air Show, which is sponsored by Wings and held at the airport. The day-long event is free and open to the public. Read this week’s “Chamber Corner” to learn more.
The Perham Municipal Airport and Wings Flight Training are located at 42706 County Highway 80, west of Perham.