Flying in Wallowa County

Flying in Wallowa County

Katherine Stickroth

What does a gal do as a pilot lifts his plane in the air and when he tips his wing, he unknowingly grabs her heart which then zips along with him as he does rollovers and loops?

That is how I felt when Mark Peterson performed aeronautical acrobatics at last year’s Wallowa County Fly-In. This excitement burst in my heart again just watching a video of that event (filmed by Kyle Stangel) at the Wallowa County Pilots Association annual banquet last week.

“Do you remember the whistling?” I whispered to a friend across the table as we anticipated the presentation.

He assured me, “You can hear it on the video.”

We watched so many fond memories on the screen: Cessna’s of every color lined up on the grass, Miss Veedol’s sassy red self, parked with the other vintage aircraft, and Peterson’s acrobatics in his P-51 Mustang. To see that fighter plane spin in the cerulean sky with Chief Joseph Mountain in the background took my breath away.

Flying intrigues me. Decades ago I took flying lessons- even soloed- but life interfered with my getting my pilot’s license. On a trip on the Wallowa Loop Road soon after I moved here, I stopped at the Hell’s Canyon Overlook and heard a roar deafening the silence.

“What IS that?” I examined the skies.

A Delta Wing Stealth Bomber appeared from the north and slowly lumbered above the Snake River, almost at eye level with me. I imagined a brontosaurus dinosaur flying…”How does it do that?”

Two summers ago I awoke to a strange sound, like a high-pitched lawn mower. But it was overhead. So I threw on some clothes and ran outside to see a powered hang-glider.

Another day an unusual sound raised my eyes upward. It was a jet being refueled in the air by another jet. The best thing about where I live is watching the private planes take off and land at Joseph Airport. “There’s Andy,” (the flight instructor). Or “There’s Bill,” or “There’s Barney…”

There’s a large flying community in Wallowa County that maintains backcountry strips and just has fun with airplanes. With the growing success of the Fly-In, these members decided to form a nonprofit foundation that would raise funds for aviation education.

Aviation education in Wallowa County?

Yep. Classes have already begun at Joseph Charter School with expansion to Enterprise and Wallowa schools in future plans. Tobey Koehn, director of this program, has garnered funds from S. T. E. M (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) grants and high school students currently are studying aviation and building airplane parts.

At the banquet, more exciting than the thrill of watching the DVD of last year’s Fly-In, was the presentation by students Ethan Pittman and his classmate, Aji, describing what they are learning. (A photo is displayed on today’s blog post.) Their enthusiasm and hopes for where this curriculum can take them was infectious. The slideshow of students riveting sheet metal and of girls working on a drone brought smiles to the roomful of pilots and the rest of us who love flying.

The demand for commercial pilots, aviation mechanics, and secondary suppliers is great. To think that Wallowa County could funnel well-trained students into higher education in aeronautics, leading to well-paying jobs and satisfying career tracks is something to consider. Who knows? They may bring one of those clean industries back home.

The possibilities of where this education endeavor can take these students is an open as the vast skies above us. The Wallowa County Fly-In and Pancake Breakfast, which is now a fundraiser for the North East Oregon Aviation Foundation, is scheduled for August 12. And just for fun, a fleet of 30 vintage airplanes is including a stop at Joseph Airport on July 10 on their summer schedule. Mark your calendars and watch the Chieftain for upcoming announcements.  There are ways for anyone in Wallowa County to come aboard, by volunteering or purchasing sponsorships.

And while the snow has us grounded for now, I look forward to spring when pilots will push the throttle, make that motor hum and slice the air in front of Chief Joseph. Just love it!

Katherine Stickroth is a freelance writer and blogs at awallowagal.com. Published February 1, 2017 in the Chieftain newspaper, Enterprise, Oregon. Reprinted with permission.