Learn to fly

It’s always been a dream of mine to learn how to fly. Having spent so much time travelling in planes I always wondered what it would be like if flying was my job. Fortunately, I learned that Alkan Air offers the chance to try flying through their Discovery Flights. Alkan Air Flight School opened three years ago and Jenna Collee, chief flight instructor, said the Discovery Flights get people interested in flying.

“Many people have never been in a small aircraft and the Discovery Flights allow people to try and see if it’s something they want to invest time and money into getting their license.”

The school has expanded Alkan’s level of service from providing medevacs throughout the Yukon. It has also given the opportunity to train local pilots and their commercial ground school has six students at the moment.

“It’s a lot different flying up here,” Collee said. “There are not as many airports, so flight planning is vital when fuel is not as accessible as down south. The Yukon weather can be challenging, too. So to train people up here enables better pilots to handle the conditions of the Yukon.”

About 70 to 75 per cent of people who take the Discovery Flight are already considering getting their license, but many just want to experience what it’s like. “Learning to fly is a very large investment and if you don’t know if it’s going to work for you then spend the $99 to try it and see.”

Alkan Air Flight School has also recently obtained a new flight simulator and compared to their older version, it’s bringing the Yukon to the 21st century for flight training. A flight simulator is a device designed to resemble an aircraft cockpit that artificially re-creates aircraft flight. It is used in training to create many different scenarios, including emergency situations, that cannot be safely or effectively create in the actual aircraft.“It’s very good for procedural training as you get more advanced in a safe, controlled way,” Collee said. “It saves students money and you can also do a lot of simulations for emergencies that you wouldn’t be able to do in real life for training purposes.”The old simulator is a desktop model with limited switches and controls and does not really resemble an aircraft cockpit.

“[The old simulator] was only slightly better than one you might have at home with your own computer,” said Collee. “It was approximately 15 years old. The new simulator was installed in November 2017.”

The new simulator is a 4D experience with a shifting box as you manoeuvre a computer generated 3D screen that has mapped replicas of all of Canada’s airports including the Yukon. For more information about the Flight School go to AlkanAir.com and click on “Flight Training.”

The Experience

It’s an overcast April day with snow flurries in the distance as my friend Nicole and I walk out to the tiny plane near Alkan Air’s hangar at the Whitehorse Airport. Our instructor Calvin Gillings from Sarnia, Ontario who has been in the Yukon for eight years introduces us to the plane we are going to be flying.

We are both really nervous and excited as he shows us the pre-checks done on the plane every time you get in one. After the first pre-checks, it’s time to then move the plane so we can start it up: we push the plane back by hand and then pull it into a position to start the engines. Who knew I would ever be moving a plane; it’s a surreal experience.

We hunch into the plane and watch the large number of pre-flight tasks Gillings completes and the engine starts. I sit in the front seat; it’s an instructing plane, so the instructor has complete control as well as me.

He describes how to move the plane forward and turn, which is actually using your feet and the pedals. It’s an odd sensation, when there is a “steering wheel” in front of me.

I realise my muscle memory wants to drive the plane like a car. As we are maneuvering to get on the take off point of the runway, my goal is to try and keep the plane centred to the yellow line on the tarmac. It proves more difficult than it seems, as the careful constant pushing of my feet keeps the plane moving – from side to side – but also to keep moving slowly at a crawl and not too fast.

Eventually we take off, my hand lightly on the wheel as Gillings is in full control. It’s my first time in the cockpit, and in such a small plane. I can feel the pedals move and the maneuvering required on the wheel as the plane lifts off of the runway. It’s terrifying and impressive to see and feel what it takes to get a plane into the air.

As we get into the air, the snow flurries have become a white out condition towards Grey Mountain and moving fast with the winds, and we are advised to turn back and land. The plane starts to slow as we loop around around Whitehorse into position to come in for a landing. Gillings lowers the plane towards the runway, I feel the pedals and wheel maneuvering radically to line up the plane to the ground as it battles against the wind.

As we get closer to the runway, I start to tense up, seeing the runway coming at you from the front of a plane is terrifying. I close my eyes as we touch down smoothly and eventually the plane comes to a slow speed. Not quite flight experience just yet, but incredible nonetheless, so we reschedule our flight for next week in hopes of better weather.

Gillings has been flying since he was 10 years old, even though he was too little to reach the pedals and the instructor had to pedal for him. He recently certified as an instructor and loves the consistent hours.

“It’s rewarding and exciting to help people achieve their goals,” Gillings said. “We want to see students who are successful; as an instructor it’s vital to have successful candidates.”

The Discovery Flights are run all year round, with winter being a smoother time to fly than the common turbulence in summer. However, the planes don’t fly when it’s colder than -25ºC.

Enjoy a 30 minute flight with one of Alkan Air’s instructors, take the controls of the airplane and see if flight lessons are for you. Discovery Flights are made by appointment; contact Alkan Air Flight School at 867-333-9793 or [email protected].

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