By Don Hall
Shaun Collins wears many hats. He is a small business owner who drives his own semi. He is a part-time police officer in Mineral Springs. He is the pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Linden, Texas.
He can now add one more hat to his collection: he’s a student pilot at Howard County Airport.
On a recent Friday night, Collins was part of a small gathering at the hangar of Mark Wiley, a local pilot and flight instructor.
Collins says he has always wanted to be a pilot. Those who grew up staring at the sky and wondering what it would be like to be up there staring down at the earth fully understand.
With more than 40 hours of flight time and having already completed the necessary cross-country requirements of five hours of solo cross-country, including one solo flight of more than 50 nautical miles (57.5 miles for normal people) and one solo of more than 150 nautical miles (172.5 statute miles), landing at three different airports, Shaun has almost achieved his goal of earning a private pilot’s license. With a properly equipped airplane, he will soon be able to land at any publicly owned airport in America, from Howard County to LAX.
Nathan Hill of Newhope is a rancher who raises hogs, chicken and cattle. He became interested in flying about a year ago, and has 25 hours of flying time, including a solo flight to Hope.
Nathan’s future co-pilot, wife Nicole, has also fallen in love with being in the air. They look forward to being able to use an airplane for business use as well as being able to travel.
Mark Wiley is their Certified Flight Instructor (CFI.) Wiley is a retired financial services adviser whose son is a professional pilot. It was through his son’s love of aviation that Mark became interested in flying. At age 56, he earned his private pilot’s license, and he now has more than 1,200 hours of flight time at age 65.
Wiley has had an airplane based at Howard County Airport for three years. In order to share his love of flying, he became a CFI. Then he bought an airplane, a trainer that is relatively easy to fly, so he could share that passion for flying with others.
When people drive cross-country, they look for places to stop every so often. Pilots are the same.
In Texarkana, Hot Springs, Arkadelphia, De Queen and Hope, pilots flying through the area can stop, fuel up, use the restroom, stretch their legs, and use a courtesy car to drive into town to find a restaurant. Fuel was recently added at the local airport, and pilots hope to soon add rest facilities and a courtesy car.
Less than 1% of the U.S. population holds a private pilot’s license.
Some think learning to fly is too expensive. While it’s not cheap, it is something a regular person who is willing to make some sacrifices can do.
Some think it is not practical. They’re right, but pilots say the view from 3,500 feet makes it worthwhile.
Some think it would be too difficult to find someone to teach them. There is a CFI with a training airplane here in Howard County.
If you were that kid looking up at the sky, call Mark Wiley at 870-904-0733 for more information on how you, too, can experience flight.