Seeley Swan Pathfinder -


By Andi Bourne

Seeley-Swan High School Senior Receives His Wings


Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Adam Weisenburger with the Seeley Lake Flying Club's airplane, a 1966 Cesna 172 Skyhawk. This is the only airplane Adam has flown since he started working towards his private license in 2013.

SEELEY LAKE – Seeley-Swan High School senior Adam Weisenburger added the power to the 1966 Cessna 172 Skyhawk. He'd been given clearance to taxi for his pre-check ride in Missoula for his private pilot's license.

"I was sitting there and not moving. I got to half power and I got to thinking, I'm on flat level tarmac, I should be moving," said Adam.

Adam asked the certifier if he had his feet on the brake. When that was not the case, he made sure there was nothing lodged in the foot pedals.

"Then it dawned on me, maybe they have [wheel] chocks, that weren't removed," said Adam laughing. "I turned and looked out the window and sure enough there were two bright red chocks [blocking the wheels]."

Adam didn't let this little bump get in the way of his goal and it makes for a great story. He completed his pre-check ride March 19 and passed his check ride the following Saturday. He is the first person from Seeley Lake to get his private pilot's license while still in high school. He is one step closer to his dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot for Fed-Ex.

Adam started flying in October 2013 with his student pilot license. He took his first solo flight Aug. 16, 2016 to the airport in Ronan, Mont. Since then he has logged more than 100 hours and met all the requirements for his private license with his private instructor and father Trace, a Captain with Alaska Airlines.

"There is a great need for pilots right now," said Trace who added that Horizon cancelled 50 flights per day last year because of pilot shortages. Some of the reasons Trace highlighted were fewer pilots coming out of the military, limited number of flight schools following the 9/11 attacks and more stringent requirements for pilots following the Colgan crash in 2009 that killed 50 people near buffalo, N.Y.

Locally there is only one part-time certified flight instructor in Missoula for 62 students and there are only two evaluators in Missoula. Cost is also an issue since renting a plane in Missoula is $110 per hour plus the instructor's time.

"It is really hard to get your private license in Montana," said Trace whose only student has been Adam. "The goal is to get as much time here under my instruction because I'm cheap." Since they use the Seeley Lake Flying Club's plane it costs $65 per hour for Adam to fly.

To get a private pilot license, the Federal Aviation Administration requires 40 hours of flight time and 10 hours of solo flight time; a cross country trip at least 150 miles long with 50 miles between three airports with one airport with a controlled airspace; three hours of night flying with ten take offs and landings; and three hours of instrument time where the pilot flies only with the instruments.

"I always joke that we were the only ones using the [Seeley Lake] airport last summer," said Adam. "Half of the landings and takeoffs were from us."

Even though the Seeley Lake Airport was closed from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. during the Rice Ridge Fire, the Weisenburgers were able to leave by 5:50 a.m. and return after 10 p.m. They parked at Condon's airstrip and then went up to Kalispell for the night take-offs and landings.

Trace explained that coming into the Seeley Lake Airport at night is challenging because the airstrip is not lit with the exception of solar-lit cones on the runway, it is mountainous and they are in a single engine airplane.

"Nighttime out here wasn't very enjoyable just because there are no lights and you can't see anything. If you lose your engine, there is nothing but trees," said Adam who completed his three hours of night flying in two trips.

The three hours of instrument time is an introduction into flying in the clouds eliminating the visual component of flying. Adam puts on a hood that allows him to only fly by the instruments while a certified pilot rides in the right seat as the safety pilot.

Adam passed his 60 question written exam, completed his pre-check ride and returned for his check ride March 24. When Adam took off the winds were good and "I didn't forget the chocks." The rest of the check ride went as planned until coming into Missoula. He asked for the weather but didn't catch the winds.

"Judging from the face the evaluator made, the winds were not good. He asked if I caught the winds and I didn't so I had to have the winds repeated. They were 17 knots gusting 28," said Adam gasping.

Not only were the winds high, he could see another squall coming in less than five miles off the end of the runway. "That's not good. The winds aren't good and he wants me to do different types of landings. With the winds I decided to just make a full stop. We parked and he said he was happy to pass me. It was awesome. I'm really happy."

Trace said only three quarters pass their private license on the first try. Adam can now carry passengers and fly anytime he would like.

Trace Weisenburger

Evaluator Joe Sanella shakes Adam Weisenburger's hand after completing his check ride and earning his private pilot's license.

His next step is his instrument rating. He must complete 40 total hours of flying only with his instruments, log 150 hours of flight time and take another written test and check ride to gain his instrument rating. After getting his instrument rating, Adam will go to Bozeman's Summit Aviation for flight school to get his multi-engine and commercial ratings.

Trace estimates Adam will be in his late 20s before he would be eligible to fly for Fed-Ex. However, this could be reduced because of the pilot shortage or if different doors open.

"I don't really want to do passengers, I just want to fly cargo," said Adam. "Plus I really like the MD-11s and they don't use those in passenger service."

"Adam is a natural. I'm learning this as I fly with more kids. He makes it look easy," said Trace who is very proud of him. "As his instructor, it's a relief to have this step done so we can start working on new stuff. That is what keeps it exciting. As his Dad, it is on to the next challenge."


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