Take a drive on the north side of Greenwood, and the planes in the air are hard to miss. Chances are those planes are being flown by student pilots from a school at the Greenwood Airport. Some are getting a taste of flying for the first time. Some do it for fun. Others aim to make a career as a commercial pilot or instructor. Find out why they take to the skies.
Realizing a bird’s-eye view
The Colich File
Name: Andy Colich
Job: Airport volunteer
Started flying: January 2011
Current licenses: Private pilot
Working toward: Commercial pilot’s license
Goal: To become a flight instructor and also give sightseeing tours by air.
Sunsets above the clouds, flights over a friend’s house and views from the air of a college campus or downtown Indianapolis — those are all reasons Andy Colich feels fortunate to be a pilot.
He was working as a flight attendant for an airline in 2010 when some pilots encouraged him to try flying himself.
As a child, he’d imagined what it was like to be a bird, and he now can go up in the air and get the view he imagined birds get, he said.
“Yeah, you’re responsible for the airplane, but it’s a very free feeling. You’re kind of away from everything,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words because you’re very alone. It’s peaceful.”
The southside resident began taking flight lessons in 2011 and plans to get his commercial pilot’s license in the summer or fall of 2015. Colich, 24, is working on getting his instrument rating, which is Federal Aviation Administration certification that verifies that he can fly with only the gauges within the airplane if he’s caught in a cloud or a storm. The rating is necessary for commercial pilots.
Colich’s goal is to share with as many people as he can the freedom and the spectacular views through the big, surrounding windows on the small planes he flies. He enjoys taking friends up in the air and showing them sights in the air that the tiny windows of a commercial airline jet could never provide.
That’s why he wants to teach other people to fly.
“To be able to share with people, to kind of set them free on their own, I think would be a pretty cool thing to do,” he said.
He also likes the job options he could have with a certified flight instructor rating and a commercial pilot’s license. He could teach throughout the country and also offer flights for sightseers, he said.
Among the opportunities piloting has given him was a chance to fly in California, where he got to see sweeping views of the ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains.
“It’s a pretty special place to fly,” he said. “It’s a place where the ocean and the mountains collide.”
Her goal: Be a flying angel
The Pawley File
Name: Melissa Pawley
Started flying: April 1, 2009
Current licenses: Private pilot
Working toward: Instrument rating
Goal: To become an angel pilot, which is a pilot who flies patients with long-term medical conditions, to distant hospitals.
In high school, she decided she wanted to fly helicopters like the pilots giving radio traffic reports.
But then Melissa Pawley tried flying a single-engine airplane from the Greenwood Airport, and during that 30-minute flight she was hooked.
“I actually told the instructor, ‘As long as I don’t get sick on this flight, I’m signing up for lessons,’” Pawley said.
The elementary school librarian has logged more than 150 hours in flight and earned her private pilot’s license. She is taking lessons to learn how to fly small planes without looking out the windows.
She’ll have to fly 40 hours to get the instrument rating, which will allow her to fly as an angel pilot. An angel pilot donates her time and a plane rental to pick up patients with chronic or long-term medical conditions who need to get specialized treatment far from home.
Pawley’s training to get that rating includes flying with an instructor from Jeff Air, the Greenwood Airport flight school, wearing foggy goggles to practice using the plane’s dashboard gauges. With her instrument rating, she’ll be trained and certified to fly entirely by looking at gauges that tell her, for example, whether the plane’s nose is up or down and how high above the ground it is. That way, based only on looking at her instruments, she can fly through clouds and bad weather no matter what is visible through the windows.
For the training and to keep her license, she has to make short and long flights, which means she’s taken brief trips to cities such as Cincinnati and longer trips to Texas, which took about six hours each way.
Sometimes, all she’ll do at her destination is get a bite to eat at a restaurant, which is why pilots have a standing joke that all they get out of flying is an expensive hamburger.
Pawley likes to fly as a hobby, but she also wants the cost of renting a plane to have a purpose beyond fun.
That’s why she applied for a $10,000 Lilly Endowment grant, which is paying for the flight lessons for her to get the instrument rating. Once she’s flown the required 500 hours, she will be able to volunteer her flight time for patients who can’t afford to get to their specialized treatment.
“I love to help people. I almost became a nurse,” she said. “I need something more than a $100 hamburger.”
Dream of teaching pilots
The Singh File
Name: Harjinder Singh
Started flying: 2009
Current licenses: Private pilot, instrument rating, commercial pilot, multiengine, certified flight instructor instrument rating
Working toward: Certified flight instructor
Goal: To become a flight instructor
As a teen, he found the planning and science of flight intriguing.
He was fascinated by how a combination of increasing and decreasing air pressure on a plane’s wings lift the plane off the ground.
Harjinder Singh, 28, of Greenwood, started taking science classes at Purdue University before ever knowing about the flying lessons offered at the college. He then discovered the flight school and committed to becoming a pilot.
Singh graduated in 2012 with private and commercial pilot’s licenses, as well as multiple certifications.
“That’s always something I wanted to do from the beginning. I like the challenge of it,” he said.
Currently he works part time for a trucking company driving and dispatching. But once he finishes his in-air flight instructor certification, Singh wants to apply to be an instructor at the Greenwood Airport. The school is hiring full-time flight instructors for the first time this year.
In his flight lessons, Singh is learning how to teach about every part of an airplane and emergency procedures, what could go wrong and how to fix it.
He’s taking one-on-one lessons with Tom Jeffries, owner of Jeff Air, the Greenwood Airport flight school, where he practices teaching how to fly the small Piper Warrior.
Singh hopes to get his certification by the end of May but first has to take a check ride, or in-flight test, with a Federal Aviation Administration inspector.
Singh will add flight hours to his log book as an instructor if he gets hired on at Jeff Air.
Teaching would help get him from the 260 flight hours he has now to the 1,500 hours he would need to get a job as an airline pilot, he said.