Aviators say sky is limit at TRU

Maximilian Birkner, Contributor Ω

Kieran Van Wagoner hopes to get an aviation club off the ground at TRU. - Photo by Maximilian Birkner

Kieran Van Wagoner hopes to get an aviation club off the ground at TRU. – Photo by Maximilian Birkner

It’s my first time in a four-seat plane and for two bumpy seconds above Saunders Field in Merritt, I think it will be my last. As we approach the runway, the gusts of wind that have joined us during flight get worse as we near the ground. At only a few feet off the ground, the 1,700-pound Cessna 172R Skyhawk, smaller than a minivan, is hit by a wind gust that tilts me concrete-side. Strapped in, I prepare for the worst noogie of my life — but the crash never comes. Kieran Van Wagoner — bush pilot, army officer and TRU student — works the flight controls console and rights the plane.

Extra-curricular clubs at TRU are quickly dwindling. Doug Baleshta, assistant professor and educational technology coordinator since 1988, remembers his days as a student at University College of the Cariboo (now TRU) in the seventies.

“There was a club for everything: a SCUBA club, a hiking club,” he said.

An aviation enthusiast who recently built his own airplane, Baleshta has been trying to start an aviation club at TRU, but in five months few people have shown interest.
He thinks that students would be more interested in flight if they were properly informed about what the possibilities are for TRU students to get off the ground.

“There’s many aspects of flying that people may be interested in, from control systems, maintenance, to fabrication using traditional or space age materials [and] private or commercial flying . . . We can explore the possibility of joining forces with the Kamloops Flying Club whose members would probably be more than willing to take someone interested in the industry on [a] flight.”

Wagoner had never heard of Baleshta’s attempt to start an aviation club, even though the club was advertised on the TRU social networking site, Mahara. While it seems that in today’s wired world people should be more knowledgeable than ever about opportunities on campus, the opposite may be true because people seem to be paying attention to online groups outside the bounds of TRU, such as Twitter and Facebook, rather than the campus-based site.

Ironically, Wagoner, who got his commercial pilot’s license at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ont., had also considered starting a club.

“The idea is to base a club at TRU, and then work with the flight school here in Kamloops to get students up in the air . . . the aviation community is a really fun thing to get involved with . . . A club like this would be for anyone, from beginners to experienced pilots.”

Glen Kowalchuk is the supervisor and instructor at Canadian Flight Center Kamloops, a satellite of the head office in Vancouver. The Manitoba native has been flying since his college years.

TRU campus as seen from the air. - Photo by Maximilian Birkner

TRU campus as seen from the air. – Photo by Maximilian Birkner

“The most important thing [when learning to fly] is that you’re comfortable and having fun,” he said. “If you’re not having fun, you’re not learning, you’re not getting your money’s worth,” adding that the Kamloops region is especially picturesque for those willing to get in the air.

“There are a lot of mountains and other obstacles around here that makes flying really interesting and fun.”

Kowalchuk confirmed that the Flight Center is eager to attract TRU students. Wagoner thinks that if a flying club was set up at TRU, it may be possible to arrange reduced rates with commercial companies to help finance students on a tight budget.

According to Kowalchuk, a private pilot’s license may cost about $13,000, which makes funding the toughest obstacle for students who would like to learn to fly, but Wagoner, who partially funded his private license with a scholarship from Victorinox while attending high school in Nova Scotia, is adamant that the price is worth it.

“There is a lot of confidence involved and lots of knowledge to gain . . . it’s not like anything else that people do.”

“Learning to fly is an expensive undertaking but not any more expensive than going to university,” Baleshta agrees. “The freedom is incredible . . . it also makes the geography of this country seem much smaller.”

Whether Baleshta and Wagoner get their club off the ground remains to be seen. Could you be the next to join the TRU flying club? Baleshta and Wagoner hope so.

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