After fueling up and going through a preflight checklist a couple of weeks ago on a quiet Friday afternoon at Corvallis Municipal Airport, Luc Barnes taxied onto a runway and prepared for takeoff.
The small plane’s engine soon revved to life and Barnes with passenger Luke Haslam eased the aircraft into the air before disappearing in the distance. A perfect takeoff.
This might seem like a pretty common occurrence at any city airport, but in this case, there’s a unique twist. Barnes and Haslam are both only 17 years old. And both are students at Philomath High who are earning pilot licenses as part of their senior projects.
“I do enjoy flight a lot,” said Barnes, who qualified for his pilot’s license near the end of his junior year. “I really think the coolest part when I first started is just all of the views you get from above. It’s a whole different perspective, literally, and that’s what kinda roped me in.”
No student-filled hallways. No waiting in traffic on the highway. No rushing to get homework done following a football or soccer game. For Haslam, flying at night is the best.
“You’re up there and it’s completely quiet. There’s not as much traffic and it’s peaceful,” said Haslam, who is getting close to qualifying for his pilot’s license. “You’re just away from everything and you forget about the homework or anything else. It’s just what you’re doing in the moment and it’s fun.”
Both Barnes and Haslam have connections to flying in their familial backgrounds.
“Ever since I was pretty young, my dad has exposed me to aviation and flying,” said Barnes, who is the son of Mark and Connie Barnes. “I’ve always had an interest for it because my grandpa was also a pilot in Vietnam. I’ve kinda just always been interested. I used to really like remote-controlled planes and that just carried over to real aircraft.”
“My uncle was a pilot of Delta and whenever I go to Utah, we always go flying in his plane — he has a small plane like this,” said Haslam, who is the son of Wade and Lori Haslam. “His son also just finished flight school and my other cousin did, too, and I’ve always wanted to be a pilot since I was small.”
It’s no easy task to complete the qualifications to become a pilot.
• “You need 40 hours of flight time, actual hours in the air behind the stick.”
• “You have to pass a 60-question exam where you answer things about the technicality of flight.”
• “Then you move on to more flight training and that’ll lead to about an hour and a half oral exam, just a conversation essentially with the test proctor.”
• “You go and do about an hour-and-a-half to two-hour flight test with them and they basically review your skills and analyze how well you do in the air and how well you do on your own.”
The ground-training component of the process involves a lot of studying.
“It’s like homework with the ground training,” Barnes said. “You can do it whenever you can — it’s textbook work.”
Barnes said it can take from four to 18 months to get all of the work in.
“It really depends on how often you go get your flight time hours,” Barnes said. “That’s really the biggest thing — managing your time when you can go schedule a lesson or when you have time to actually go in the air and fly.”
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Barnes started his training at the beginning of his junior year and was finished right near the end.
“All throughout that, I was dealing with sports and school and everything else and I had to fit that into my schedule,” he said. “I think that honestly was the hardest part — the time management.”
Haslam just started to pursue his private pilot’s license in May and as of a couple of weeks ago, had 32 hours of flight time in. He had hopes of finishing before the weather turns wet for the winter.
Even through all of the training, both Barnes and Haslam said there were some nervous moments when taking over the plane on their own. Haslam remembers his first solo landing.
“When the flight instructor was gone, that first time, that moment coming turning base to final onto the runway, I was like, ‘this is all me,’” Haslam said. “They (instructors) sit there and you have to do three (landings) without them even thinking it’s bad before you can do it by yourself. But the first time you do it by yourself, it is definitely an experience.”
Barnes described pilot training as an exhilarating experience with all that you learn from flying skills to learning the airplane’s systems.
“Learning simply how to fly and moving on to learning how to land the airplane — those are really exciting parts because it’s not just book work, you’re at the helm of this aircraft,” Barnes said. “It is a bit dangerous — you just can’t pull off to the side of the road like you can in a car, you’re in the air. I think that’s a really fun part.”
One part of the training that Barnes mentioned as a nervous moment involves landing at another airport, which is a requirement as part of obtaining a private pilot’s license.
“Your first time flying to a different airport is really a nerve-wracking experience because you’re not just as your home airport where you’ve landed hundreds of times,” he said. “You’re going to an entirely different airport and you have to find out how long that runway is, if you can land there, what the weather is there. There’s a lot more factors that play into flying cross-country than just flying around your own field.”
Both Barnes and Haslam would consider a career in piloting, especially since there is such a high demand with older pilots reaching retirement age and not much of an interest among the younger generations.
Barnes has a real grasp on what education he would need and if you ask him, he could cite each step that must be completed along the way for various certifications.
“I’ve thought about that a lot and it’s really nice that if I did want to go that path and get a bunch of hours and get all of my certification to potentially be hired by an airline company, I could do that in this plane,” he said, explaining that the aircraft is owned by a shared group that includes him, his dad and two others. “I could be going to OSU or going to college at the same time and getting my certification.”
Barnes mentioned that most airlines prefer their pilots to have college degrees.
“You can go on and become a commercial pilot with more certification or become an aerobatic pilot, with aerobatic maneuvers in the air, flying upside down, things like that,” Haslam said. “That’s real Adrenalin. That interests me a lot, too, actually.”
Haslam said flying is a career that he would consider as well.
“I’ve always wanted it to be a hobby but I think I would pursue a career in aviation,” Haslam said. “There’s an insane, crazy demand for it because it costs a lot to become a pilot.”
No matter what path the two students take in the future, it is rare for two high-schoolers from the same small campus both getting pilot’s licenses. Barnes said he’s seen only one other pilot close to their age at the airfield pursuing certification. Haslam mentioned a few others from PHS that had gone through some training.
Barnes likes the fact that now that he has his license, it’s his for life.
“Obviously you have to get it renewed like a driver’s license with certain checkups, but the cool thing is if I want to take trips on my own or fly over to Bend and ski for the weekend, I could do that,” said Barnes, who happens to be one of the top high school skiers in the state. “It really opens up a lot of possibilities of trips and having fun.”