LSC aviation program takes off
Within seconds, the propeller of the Cirrus SR20 became invisible, and Lake Superior College student Hannah Westin readied the plane for departure. Checking off 25 items on a display screen, Westin meticulously followed instructions before asking...
Within seconds, the propeller of the Cirrus SR20 became invisible, and Lake Superior College student Hannah Westin readied the plane for departure.
Checking off 25 items on a display screen, Westin meticulously followed instructions before asking for takeoff clearance at Duluth International Airport.
Westin is one of three women in the college's 28-student advanced aviation program, which this year became owner of the new Cirrus plane she flew last week. The 20-year-old Duluth native shelved business classes to become a pilot this year.
"I like the challenge and the thrill," she said. "I decided I didn't want a desk job for the rest of my life; I wanted something a little more exciting."
The aviation program, which prepares students to be professional pilots and to do aviation maintenance, was transferred from Vermilion Community College in 2001. This year's enrollment is more than double last year's. Graduates of the program often end up at flight schools, regional airlines and corporate flight departments.
With 30 hours of flight time under her belt, Westin was off the ground faster than you can grab peanuts from a flight attendant. As Duluth's unique topography came into view, Westin and her instructor, Lis Hendrickson, talked about altitude and speed through their headsets. Cruising at about 135 mph -- or 114 knots -- to the Two Harbors northeast practice area, the lesson would commence at 4,000 feet.
Westin was all business, saying little except for seatbelt checks and communicating with air traffic control.
The aviation program is housed at the Duluth airport and has six planes and eight instructors. Westin gets to fly just about every day, but hasn't yet traveled beyond Moose Lake. She's on her way to obtaining her private pilot license, with instrument and commercial pilot licensure to go. An internship with Northwest Airlines waits for her this summer.
"Just about anybody can fly," Hendrickson said. "Very few people can't get to the point of manipulating an aircraft. You need concentration, and you learn to multitask."
Westin ably managed several things at once throughout the flight, performing steep turns that showcased lakes and forests while balancing power and speed in a delicate dance.
She wore vision-reducing glasses during her maneuvers that forced her to see only the instruments to control the plane, and not what she could see through the windshield. The screens before her showed a map of the area and a horizon of dirt and sky, which she used as she practiced descents, turns and climbs.
"These exercises get her proficient in looking at everything; there's lots of power to manage," Hendrickson said, as Westin handled a left crosswind. She brought the aircraft smoothly back to solid ground, earning a "beautiful" from her instructor.