Kirk Dougal/Times Bulletin
BY KIRK DOUGAL
Times Bulletin Editor
VAN WERT - Randy Thompson says there may be nothing more enjoyable than being able to share something you love with others and show how much fun it can be.
Thompson, as well as being a co-owner of Van Wert Bedrooms, is also a flight instructor for light-sport flight at the Van Wert County Regional Airport, a recent license level for pilots that allows a less expensive and simpler entryway into flying for enthusiasts. He has been flying since about two months before his 16th birthday, receiving his student license on his birthday and then obtaining his pilot's license when he was 17 years-old. In 2009, he purchased a plane specifically for light-sport flight instruction and in December received his instructor certificate.
For Thompson, flying has always held a certain fascination.
"It was something I was always interested in when I was a kid," he said. "I always thought I wanted to learn to fly. Every time a plane flew over I was looking right up at it, kind of my head in the clouds, so to speak."
Thompson pointed out the FAA added the light-sport level just in the past five years. It is a step above the ultra-light and outside of the experimental classification. The designation comes in part because of the limits on the planes. They are factory built models weighing less than 1,430 pounds for float-equipped airplanes and 1,320 for regular airplanes. Almost immediately it became apparent how much of a need there had been for the change. When the FAA made the classification, only seven models fit into the category. Now, manufacturers are making over 100 different models that fit the restrictions.
There are also limitations placed on the licenses for the pilots as well. A person with a light-sport license can not fly at night, can not fly over 10,000 feet and can not fly into heavy use air space without extra training. But one of the real benefits is that the pilots do not need to take medical exams. Thompson said that has brought back in a whole generation of pilots who might be over 55 years-old but are afraid they could not pass the exam. Now they have a pathway back to their enjoyment of flying.
"I call it sport aviation," said Thompson. "You really are just doing (light-sport) for fun. Or, you can use it as a stepping stone if you want to go on (for a higher license)."
Thompson said it is amazing how simple the light-sport planes are to fly. The model he owns and uses for instruction does not have rudder pedals or flaps. It has a steering wheel and a throttle for flying and a brake for stopping on the ground, showing how the plane's design was built for simplicity. The airplane has a cruising speed of about 100 mph and a range of approximately 400 miles, making it a perfect machine for the type of short hops allowed under a sport-light designation.
"That will give you about four to four and a half hours before you need to land," said Thompson with a laugh. "And that's about all you want to fly at one time without getting up and walking around."
Thompson began accepting students in February. He said it takes most people about four weeks to come in and obtain their student solo license. After that, another two months is about all it would take to receive the full license. He also pointed out how affordable it is since for just under $1,000, a person can be flying on their own.
The ease of earning the light-sport license is one of the biggest benefits according to Thompson but that is not what he loves about flying and instructing.
"My enjoyment of flying is what I like sharing with people. I take someone up and I get to do what I enjoy doing and show them what I enjoy. Getting up in the sky and looking down and seeing what is really down here on the Earth, you see it all from a different perspective, that of a bird. Some of the most beautiful sights you'll ever see is when it is cloudy and you can fly around the edges of the clouds and instead of looking at mountains, you're looking at clouds. It is a picture that you can't see from the ground."
Thompson talked about how beautiful the country around Van Wert looks from the air. He described the patchwork of fields and the green in the spring as well as the roads wandering through it. It is those sights and his love of flying that dovetail so nicely with why he is performing the light-sport instruction.
"Aviation has always been exciting," he said. "It kind of lost its excitement because of the regulations. And with the computer, you can get on a flight simulator and fly anywhere. But there is still something about getting up in an airplane that's exciting to me. That's what I hope to give back - that excitement."