Katherine Canja was 7 or 8 years old when her father took her on her first flight. Sitting in the Cessna 152, a two-seater, single-engine prop plane, she was too small to see out of the cockpit, so she grabbed the passenger door handle with two tiny hands and peered out the window in wonder.
In August, Ensign Canja, 23, will begin her training to become a naval aviator at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida.
An Oregon State University graduate in radiation health physics, Canja earned her private pilot license over three summers between school years through the OSU Flying Club.
The OSU Flying Club is a nonprofit organization that accepts students, alumni, faculty, staff and retired employees of OSU and Linn-Benton Community College and their family members. The club is rumored to have started in the 1930s when professors made their planes available to students, said Thomas Lidner, club secretary. “The club has probably been active since the 1950s.”
Canja picked the club for her training because it was a bargain. Club members receive a 20 percent discount on aircraft rentals.
“It was affordable with the discount,” Canja said. “I picked the club and looked at the instructor bios. Dennis Wyza used to be on the crew of a P-3 as an enlisted man.”
Canja hopes to one day fly a P-3, a maritime patrol aircraft, and wanted a tough instructor with military experience. Wyza delivered.
“There was no wiggle room. He didn’t sign me off until I’d get it done. I invited him to my commissioning.”
The club has nine instructors and five planes, including a state-of-the-art 2005 Cessna 172SP, a four-seater with a glass panel and a GPS navigation system.
“For safety reasons, we wanted to update our fleet,” said Bob Parrott, an instructor. “This (plane) has fuel injection. More horsepower. We’re more fuel-efficient. The GPS is so accurate with diagrams of airports, it’s hard to get lost.”
The club’s board members would also like to update their membership. Of the 120 members, only eight are women — 6 percent. That percentage matches the national average. According to the Federal Aviation Association, as of Dec. 31, 2008, there were 613,745 private pilots in the United States; 37,951 are women.
“We have to do better,” said John Larson, chief flight instructor. “We need to learn how to attract ladies to flying.”
Canja can’t explain the paucity of female pilots, but she thinks times are changing. “I don’t see any difference in performance,” Canja said. “We’re a minority still. We’re going to see a huge rise in women pilots.”
For some, flying is a hobby; for Canja, it’s a dream come true — and a career.
“I have a job that I will love. I’m very excited for my future.”