Wild blue yonder Featured

8:31am EDT March 28, 2003
Carl Gedeon, president of Mayfield Heights-based Med-Space Inc., often needs to visit the factories where his modular MRI offices are built, places like Elkhart, Ind.; Farmville, Va., and Morristown, N.J. Not exactly major airport hubs.

"Farmville is between nowhere and nowhere," Gedeon says. "To get there, you have to fly into a major airport and drive another three to four hours. Or, I could fly there in two-and-a-half hours, accomplish what I need to do and fly back. That's less than half a day."

Which is why a year ago, Gedeon signed up to earn his pilot's license through the Be A Pilot program, offered by Cleveland-based AirSports Aviation. Now he can fly directly to secondary airports closer to his manufacturing facilities.

"You'll be surprised when you get up there how many contiguous airports there are," Gedeon says. "You can program the GPS (Global Positioning System) to just give you the nearest airport to where you want to go."

Gedeon flies at least a couple times a week, even if he doesn't have anywhere to go for business. In December 2001, he bought a Cessna Skyhawk single-propeller airplane, which he parks at Burke Lakefront Airport.

"Weather permitting, I like to get up there to keep current and stay sharp," he says. "I usually go to Pennsylvania and come back. It only takes a couple hours."

Gedeon has a basic pilot's license, called a private pilot certificate, which allows him to carry passengers. Although he's not allowed to fly for hire, he can share expenses with passengers, typically cutting the cost of flying to one-half or one-quarter the cost of aircraft rental.

"My first lesson was uneventful, actually," Gedeon says. "I just got familiar with the instrumentation. It's amazing when you start flying how natural some of the things are."

Earning a private pilot certificate typically costs $3,000 to $7,000, depending on local cost-of-living and pilot aptitude, according to Be A Pilot. Most pilots rent aircraft, which ranges from $60 to $70 an hour, or $90 to $100 an hour for the newest models.

Gedeon says for his business, it's well worth the cost.

"It's less expensive than when I had a boat, and it's probably less than when I belonged to a country club," he says. "At the end of it, you accomplish something, if nothing else."

AirSports Aviation has offices at Burke Lakefront, Akron-Canton Regional, and Cuyahoga County airports. How to reach: AirSports Aviation, (216) 241-2127 or (330) 244-2250

Learning to fly

My instructor, Charlie Wentz, an extremely affable pilot with red hair and a booming voice, greets me at the door of Cleveland Air Sports with a question no one had ever asked me.

"You ready a fly a plane?"

I wasn't.

But if I was going to write an article about how easy it was to learn to fly a plane, it was my journalistic duty to find out.

After Wentz's safety check, we belt into the blue-and-red-stripped white 2001 Cessna 174 SP and taxi the runway at the Burke Lakefront Airport.

The plane is about the size of a small Italian sports car on the inside. I am shoulder to shoulder with Wentz. About two dozen dials, gauges, digital readouts and LCD display screens pulse before us. I begin to have second thoughts.

Due to its size, the plane doesn't need much speed before we are 2,000 feet in the air, looking down at downtown Cleveland.

Wentz lets me take the control stick, called a yoke, to perform some turns, an ascent and a descent. On the turns, I feel like I'm going to tumble out of the side window.

On the descent, I am too forceful on the yoke and we lurch toward the snow-covered earth.

"I've got the controls," Wentz assures me.

With my sunglasses fogged up and sweat seeping through my shirt, I'm more than happy to let him fly.

The truth is, it was remarkably easy -- and thrilling -- to fly a plane. And I imagine after 40 hours, which is the requirement for a basic license, I would be at ease behind the yoke -- once I got over the fear of crashing, that is.

Pilot facts

Want to become a pilot? Here's what it takes, according to the Be A Pilot program, which was founded by a coalition of aircraft and equipment manufacturers, pilot organizations, and aviation trade associations.

* A student pilot certificate is limited to flights with an instructor or supervised practice flying. Student pilots may fly alone, but may not carry passengers and are limited from certain air traffic areas without additional training and instructor endorsement.

* A private pilot certificate allows you to carry passengers and offers standard pilot privileges. Training and requirements: Minimum 40 hours of flight instruction and supervised practice flying, a 50-question knowledge test and a flight test.

* Earning a private pilot license typically costs $3,000 to $7,000 depending on local cost-of-living and pilot's aptitude.

* A private pilot certificate is good for life, as long as the pilot can pass the doctor's office exam for an FAA Third Class medical certificate every two years.

* Pilots take a review with a flight instructor once every two years to assure skill level and knowledge of current regulations and recent changes.

* Most pilots rent aircraft by the hour, at rates ranging $60 to $70 an hour, or $90 to $100 an hour for the newest models. Source: Be A Pilot, (202) 637-1383 or www.beapilot.com