My hands are steady — a good thing, because they’re keeping the plane on course — but a panic-induced adrenaline surge is making my legs shake uncontrollably.
As everything on the Creston Valley floor gets smaller and the sky gets bigger, there is only one thought in my mind: How do you turn this thing around?
Well, it’s not the only thought. It’s joined by, This is totally awesome!
I’ve wanted to fly for as long as I can remember, but actually taking off on my first time out is a little…unnerving, to say the least. Apparently, though, there’s nothing to worry about.
• • •
Despite having a first-timer in the pilot’s seat, Aaron Cyman is the picture of calm composure, his hands resting gently in his lap, making gentle small talk at his 1974 Cessna 172M ascends to 4,000 feet.
His reaction — or lack thereof — is no surprise, really. The owner of Creston’s BearAir has been flying since he was eight, and his dad and grandpa were pilots. His grandpa has two planes and a grass runway on his Alberta farm.
“By the time I was 12, I could fly, and take off and land — I just didn’t have a licence,” said Cyman, who is also the manager of the Creston Valley Airport.
The early training meant Cyman knew the basics when he decided to obtain his licence, which he earned in 1999, later becoming a professional pilot and instructor in 2002.
“I didn’t know I would do it for a living at the beginning,” he said. “I just knew I wanted to fly.”
• • •
My legs have stopped shaking as I gently guide the plane in a lazy circle over Duck Lake after nudging the plane into cruising attitude, which, along with nose up and nose down attitudes, Aaron had shown me in a classroom session before leaving the ground. That was followed by a preflight check, which ensured the plane was fuelled, the tires had air, the body and wings had no dents, the brakes weren’t leaking fluid and that every moving part that should be solidly bolted on was, well, bolted on.
Secure in the knowledge we’re not going to suddenly fall from the sky, I begin to relax and take in my surroundings, from the sky to the mountaintops to the Kootenay River meandering through the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area.
It’s breathtaking to see it all from half a mile above the ground, where it becomes incredibly clear just how big the valley is — and how much you miss from the ground.
• • •
“I like to see the scenery, not just fly over top of it,” said Cyman.
And he could if he wanted to — he has his airline transport licence, so he could be flying at 40,000 feet all the time. However, he prefers small commercial flights, such as the ones offered by BearAir, which he and his wife, Jennifer, also a pilot and instructor originally from Bella Coola, bought in October 2010.
“She really wanted to come back to B.C. because she loved it so much,” said Cyman.
The only commercial operation at the Creston Valley Airport, the eight-year-old business (started in Revelstoke, and moved to Creston in 2008) offers scenic flights, and is often contracted for survey flights, including gathering grizzly bear telemetry.
The flight school was added in August, which should be an asset to aspiring Creston Valley pilots. While many take lessons and become licensed in the U.S., the process to switch from a U.S. to a Canadian licence is extensive — local lessons eliminate that unnecessary step.
And because the Cymans plan to make the Creston Valley their home, students can enjoy the chance to have the same instructor throughout their training. Many instructors simply use teaching to build time before moving on to something they’d prefer, but that’s not the case with Cyman.
“It’s not a stepping stone for me,” he said.
If there’s one thing that is vital to a flight instructor, it’s — you guessed it — patience.
“Every learner is different,” Cyman said. “I’ve learned from some students which you can push harder than others.”
And sometimes that push leads to a breakthrough as they discover they’re more capable than they thought.
“I love seeing the satisfaction on people’s faces when they get to do that,” he said.
• • •
The air is naturally a bit rough as we fly mere hundreds of feet over the treetops as I circle the plane behind Creston and over Lakeview and Arrow Creek, emerging over Canyon, with a great overhead view of the Goat River dam.
Aaron takes the controls at this point so I can snap a few pictures, then turns the plane back over to me as we head over West Creston, then circle back to the airport.
As we land — as Aaron lands, I should say — it’s hard to keep from grinning like an idiot. My initial panic is now forgotten, a foggy memory largely overwhelmed by the exhilaration of flying for the first time. Now, there’s no doubt in my mind as to why Aaron loves it so much.
• • •
“I love the fact that every time I go flying it’s different,” Cyamn said. “It’s not the same scenery, it’s not the same things.”
And that makes his job better than any other.
“I always tell people that when I’m in the plane, looking out the window, it’s the best desk in the world,” he said. “I always take time to remind myself of that when I’m flying.”
For more information on BearAir, visit www.bearair.ca, call 250-402-6586 or email email@example.com.