Gran-Aire Flight School puts you in the pilot's seat
The feats of the Milwaukee Air & Water Show have departed for another year. However, flight fanatics don't have to wait until next summer to indulge their high-flying fantasies.
Just a few minutes northwest of Downtown, Gran-Aire Flight School has been taking novice flyers into the wild blue yonder for over 50 years.
The school, based at Timmerman Airport at 9305 W. Appleton Ave., offers both pilot training and introductory flights for would-be pilots of all ages.
"Anybody can learn to fly," said Gran-Aire's chief flight instructor, Dan Gerard. "I've flown with retired people, I've flown with 14-year-old kids. I've even done intro flights with 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds who are really into airplanes. We've got to get a couple cushions to boost them up so they can see over the instrument panel, but they can still move the yoke around and have a good time."
Gerard, who has been flying for 11 years, has taught at the flight school since 2006. He and his team of flight instructors have taken students up for everything from single intro flights to full pilot training.
"We do all kinds of different things here," he said. "We get a lot of people in here who are doing it because it's something they've wanted to do ever since they were a kid, and now they're older, they come back and finally have the time and the money to get their pilot certificate. And we get a lot of younger kids in here who are starting out their flight training with the goal of becoming a career pilot.
"And yeah, we'll get people here who just do it for a bucket list thing where they just want to do a flight once."
A single intro flight, for those interested in checking "Fly a Plane" off of their life's to-do list, is $95 for about a half-hour lesson.
"You sit in the pilot's seat, we'll help you taxi, help you take off, let you fly the airplane, and we do the landing," said Gerard. "We reserve a little bit of time afterward to answer any questions or discuss the training, how to proceed from here if it's something you're interested in and want to continue."
Sitting in the pilot's seat may seem daunting to the curious-but-clumsy, but there are plenty of fail-safes in place to help the instructor keep things under control.
"Unlike a driver's ed teacher, we have our own fully functional set of flight controls on our side of the airplane," said Gerard. "So, any time the student is doing something that we don't like – we have to, to some extent, allow them to make their own mistakes – when it gets to the point that we need to step in, the controls are just right here in front of us."
It also serves as experience in the future, should a first-timer find him or herself bitten by the pilot bug and interested in becoming fully certified. Subsequent lessons are given by the hour to help students master the skills they need to earn pilot certifications.
"Flight training is not like a course you take at a university where you pay one fee for the course and at the end you get your credits," Gerard explained. "You pay per hour for the airplane and per hour for the flight instructor that you're flying with. If it takes x amount of hours, then you pay that."
Most of all, Gerard says, flying is fun – and it's teaching the skill that makes it even more so for him.
"This job is different every day," he explained. "I get to meet new students; there are new challenges. If there's a student who's really struggling with something, for me, the most exciting thing is when I finally figure out what's going on in their head, why they're struggling, and I'm able to help them solve the problem and improve their flying. Every student has different challenges, different mental blocks or learning plateaus, and helping them get past that and move on with their training is what I like."
A very positive, great acticle for General Aviation. Gran- Aire is a wonderful place to start. And for those who may have some doubt, flying is still as much fun and exciting after 59 years as it was at the first solo.
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