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Brandon teen puts plan in place to fly the friendly skies
By By Jill Meier
Challenger editor

August 23. 2013 9:04AM
Most teens are excited to receive their driver’s license, to get behind the wheel for the first time without a parent in the passenger seat.

But for one Brandon teen, driving solo on the ground pales in comparison to piloting an airplane 5,000 feet in the air without an instructor – or a parent – in the passenger seat.

This summer, 17-year-old Brandon West has been taking lessons towards his private pilot’s license at Marv Skie Lincoln County Airport from Legacy Aviation instructors Mark Isackson, Jordan Hall and Bruce Beecroft.

“I like flying,” says West, a junior at Brandon Valley High School this year. “And I’ve taken every chance I can get to fly.”

“It’s a great thing for a high school kid and Brandon has got a very good disposition for it,” says Hall, who recently brought West on staff at Legacy Aviation. His duties there are varied, anything from pulling aircraft out of the hangar to fueling a plane or answering the phone.

“That’s a valuable part of learning,” his mother, Karla West says.

But Hall said not all teens have been as determined as West.

“There’s about an 80 percent dropout rate,” he said. “We have a ton of first solos and far less licensed (teen) private pilots because many realize it’s not for them.”

But that wasn’t the case for West, who admits he was hooked from his very first ride aboard a commercial airplane as a youngster, he said.

“As much as we traveled, riding on commercial airliners got me hooked,” he said.
A follow-up ride along with the Civil Air Patrol solidified his passion, he adds.

And it was his mother who led him to that passion and cadet membership in the CAP.
The straight-A student earned a scholarship to CAP, giving up video games in his spare time in exchange for ground school training. With that organization, West has assisted in both ground and air searches with the CAP.

“After taking his first flight with Jordan, he talked about it for days and days,” Karla West recalls.

To become a licensed private pilot, West first had to be 17 years old. He accomplished that when he turned 17 on Aug. 9.

The age factor, however, has been the easiest criteria to meet thus far. To date, he’s taken ground training and is in the process of getting in his flight training, for which 40 hours is the minimum. West estimates he’s just a few hours shy of the 40-hour minimum.

“The average to get a license is 60 to 70 hours,” Hall informs.

But West is getting the job done quicker than most.

“When Brandon goes into an activity, he goes into 110 percent. It’s all or nothing,” Karla West said.

He’s getting the job done in the cockpit of one of two planes, a Cessna 172S Skyhawk or a Piper Cherokee Warrior. Both planes travel at 106 knots or between 125 and 130 miles per hour.

The biggest challenge the Brandon teen has faced is “learning all the rules and regulations and air spaces,” he said.

“It’s not terribly difficult to fly,” Hall said. “It’s more a matter of developing good decision-making skills because a lot of people are not committed to learning all the rules and regulations.”

West recently spent two weeks of his summer vacation in Oshkosh, Wis., with the CAP. During his time there, he assisted with marshalling the 20,000 planes that flew in for the country’s largest air show.

No fear of flying has always been West’s attitude. “Most of the time I can’t wait to hop right in and go,” he said.

And surprisingly so his mother has few worries when her son’s in the cockpit.

“The only time I was nervous was his first solo,” she said, “but I knew Jordan and Mark wouldn’t let him do it if couldn’t.”

So what makes this young man want to have a career 5,000 feet in the air?

“There’s just something about being able to leave the ground,” he said. “And the fact that you can get to a lot of places you can’t by driving.”
While you can drive to Mankato, Minn., West opted for a cross-country flight to have lunch with his sister, Courtney. The trip took about 90 minutes, he said.

West has been eyeing a career in the skies for years. His first goal, he said, is to be accepted into the Air Force Academy. But if that doesn’t pan out, he’ll go to an aeronautical school with the goal of one day piloting charter service planes or commercial planes. He’s also considered obtaining an instructor’s license and working for an aviation firm such as Legacy.

“I wouldn’t mind working here in the future,” he adds.

Brandon Valley High School junior Brandon West proudly displays a cut out shirt back following his first solo flight earlier this summer. The 17-year-old has logged nearly 40 hours of flying time en route to earning his private pilot's license. The national average of hours for that license is between 60 and 70. Submitted photo

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