Tom Ross: The great Big Agnes flyby
January 14, 2012
Steamboat Springs — One of the things I look forward to on my outdoor adventures is filling the gaps in my mental geography of the Northern Colorado Rockies. Every time I find a vantage point that gives me a fresh view of a familiar landmark, it helps me connect the dots.
And when it comes to the ultimate vantage point, nothing quite compares with a single-engine airplane.
I was treated to a scenic flight by Bob DelValle, of the Steamboat Flying Club, on Friday, and it was nothing short of a thrill to fly in front of the craggy face of Big Agnes with Mount Zirkel itself in the background. From the passenger seat of the powerful Cessna 182 Turbo RG, I could look beyond the Park Range to the Sierra Madres and Medicine Bow Peak ranges in Wyoming. At the same time, Farwell Mountain near Pearl Lake was visible over Bob's left shoulder. What a kick!
"I've been flying for 30 years, and I still enjoy every flight," DelValle said. "But what I enjoy most is taking people up and hearing their reaction when they have a good time."
Unless you have a friend who is a pilot, you may not know about the Steamboat Flying Club. Chief Pilot Don Heineman told me the club has about 40 members, all of whom own a piece of three Cessnas through a structure he described as a fractional partnership. It costs $1,000 to join the club plus $150 in monthly dues and $120 per hour of flying time.
DelValle estimates a club member who gets in 50 hours of flying annually will spend $6,000 to $8,000 per year.
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Club member Allen Storie, who joined us for Friday's flight, said he flies his wife to Fort Collins monthly to do errands and keep appointments. But they also might indulge in a flight to Aspen for lunch.
"We call that the $100 hamburger," he said.
Ben Wilcox, who is in the construction industry and does a lot of work outside Steamboat, uses his club membership to fly on business to Arizona, Denver and small airports in rural Wyoming.
DelValle credits longtime resident Bob Maddox for having the foresight to create the club and the willingness to front the money for the club's first airplane.
"It's because of Bob that average Joes like me can afford to fly an airplane," he said.
Maddox continues to support the club by providing hangar space for all three aircraft at an affordable price.
DelValle said the existence of the club has done much to foster general aviation at Steamboat Springs Airport — many a new pilot has obtained a start with the club, and many others have graduated to purchase their own aircraft.
The club membership also helps to promote safe aviation. With 40 pilots rotating through three airplanes, the club has stricter guidelines for pre-flight checks, for example. It's an obvious necessity when all 40 pilots rely on one another for their personal safety.
But the responsibility goes beyond the club membership, he added.
"You have a huge responsibility to the (broader) community," he said. "Most people perceive flying on a commercial airline to be safer than flying in a small airplane," DelValle said. "But we can fly just as safely if we follow the same protocols."
My own perception of flying in a single-engine plane was changed Friday when I realized that not only did DelValle have a GPS device at his fingertips that provided terrain avoidance technology, but he also had a sophisticated auto pilot system that was capable of keeping the airplane at a consistent altitude. Just as quickly, he could take the little plane off autopilot and put his three decades of experience to work.
I spent most of the flight taking photographs of local landmarks and connecting the dots in my mental geography of Routt County.
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