Aug. 7, 2006

Local pilots take flight

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

It’s all up in the air for three DC pilots as they take flight from Litchfield Municipal Airport.

Rob Swendra, Ed Lehto and Bob Holly at together involved with the Litchfield Flying Club.

Swendra of Dassel is president of the club and is doing his part in promoting the positives of general aviation in the area.

Newscasts generally focus on the negatives related to flying, he explained.

“I’ve never seen a news article on anything positive,” he said.

Swendra is also a part of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association which helps keep airports and general aviation in the public’s eye and keep airports from closing.

There have been 334 fatal accidents out of 24,401,000 hours flown. This is a rate of 1.37 per 100,000 flight hours, according to statistics from the US general aviation accidents, fatalities, and rates for 2005.

There are more than 400,000 members across the US with 14,764 pilots in Minnesota alone.

For the most part, flying is a hobby for Holly of Cokato, but he is trying to incorporate it into his work with travel.

Holly enjoys flying, especially on the long, hectic days, he said.

“I get in the plane, do my warm-up and don’t think about work, all I think about is flying. You have to.” Holly said. “It’s an escape,” he said.

Holly enjoys flying at low altitudes around the area. “It’s so relaxing, you can go wherever you want to go,” he said.

Similar to scuba diving, Holly’s other hobby, flying has safety procedures that must be followed.

“You have to be a safe diver and a safe pilot,” he said.

“[Flying] is safer than anything else I know,” Holly said.

Lehto of Dassel, joined the club last year as a student.

“It’s a wonderful feeling of freedom. No congestion. It’s a chance to get away from the day-to-day grind,” Lehto said, who is part owner of Palo Companies in Cokato.

He had got a gift certificate from another airport and liked it so much he began lessons in September.

So far, Lehto has 53 hours of flight time and has begun flying solo to other airports.

Swendra and his family will take short trips with one of the three planes owned by the club.

His three daughters think it’s the most fun thing to do, Swendra said.

Although his wife Karen would rather stay on the ground, he said.

“Anybody can do it,” Swendra explained. It depends on a person’s budget. Flying classes can be expensive since 40 hours in an airplane is the minimum in order to get a pilot’s license. This can cost anywhere from $80 to $100 or more an hour including instructor costs and fuel, according to Swendra.

Swendra explained that with the high fuel costs, it’s cheaper for him to fly rather than drive somewhere using half the gas of a car.

The flight club is a $7,000 investment, which includes ownership of the club’s planes along with a computer operated flight simulator, student pilot videos and other flying materials, Swendra explained.

Anyone interested in joining the club, either pilots or new students, contact Rob Swendra at (612) 419-4480.

For those interested in taking flying lessons in the area, contact a certified flying instructor who can be found at the Glencoe, Maple Lake, or St. Cloud municipal airports.

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