Take off

A view off the left wing of a Cessna shows a look at Anderson

To err is human, but to take to the air is for the birds.
To err is human, but to take to the air is for the birds.

At least that’s what I’ve always figured. I’m the kind of person who holds his breath and tries to keep his heart from beating out of control every time I leave the ground on and airplane and every time it touches down on the runway.

And although I stand 6 foot 3 inches tall, if I had grown even another inch taller, I swear I’d probably be afraid to look down. It’s not so much that I’m afraid of flying so much that I’m afraid of falling.

Despite all that, I can’t quite describe the strange peacefulness I begin to feel once the plane reaches elevation, the serene calmness that comes over me as I whisk through the clouds and the breathtaking views from miles above the earth. Strangely, even my fear of heights seems to vanish once the plane gets so high in the air that it becomes difficult to put the small cars and building to scale. It’s this strange feeling that makes me ask for a window seat whenever I am forced to fly – and probably the only reason I can think of that makes it a worthwhile experience.

That was, until I got into the pilot’s seat.

While most airplane aficionados might delve into the world of plane by visiting the Air Museum in San Martin or going to an acrobatic air show, like the one planned at Moffett Field this weekend, I went right to the skies.

Surprisingly, getting behind the controls of an aircraft is much easier than most would expect. Thanks to 2 Genes Aviation, located at South County Airport, and deals made in conjunction with the national program Be A Pilot, would-be pilots can get a feel for flying a small airplane for less than $50.

The Be A Pilot program was started by Cessna, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and a handful of others in 1997 to help revive a near 30-year low in the number of pilots across the country. The program now has more than 45 sponsors from within the aviation industry.

According to Frank Garguilo, one of the owners of 2 Genes, the program has worked to help get would-be pilots in the door.

“It’s more of an avenue to get you to fly,” he said. “It gets you into what we do. We’re promoting them and they’re promoting us.”

Through Be A Pilot, for $49, an interested pilot will get about a half-hour of basic flight training, go through a pre-flight inspection of the plane and sit in the pilot’s chair for a 45-minute flight. Depending on their understanding and conditions, they may even get to take the controls over during parts of the flight. 2 Genes also offers a 30-minute flight for $40, but Garguilio said he would rather have interested pilots take a one-hour flight because it gives them a little more time to become acquainted with the controls and ask questions about flying the planes.

“We try to talk them into going for an hour,” he said. “Typically for people who really want to fly, an hour is really good.”

While the Be A Pilot program has connection with small airports across the country, it’s up to flight instruction schools like 2 Genes and instructors like Hollister pilot Cynthia Anderson to keep people coming back.

“I love my job. I love flying,” said Anderson, who has logged more than 400 hours of flight time and is working to become a firefighting tanker pilot.

According to Anderson, the Be A Pilot program give just a taste of what it’s like to fly a small aircraft like a Cessna, but for many people it is enough time to understand how it feels to be in the pilot’s seat and whether it is something they really want to do.

“Let’s say you’ve never been in a small plane. It’s almost like a fun flight to see what it looks like and what it feels like,” she said. “It will introduce anyone to it.”

Anderson said that most all small airports have introductory programs, so it’s important for pilots to try out a few places to make sure they are happy with their instructor.

“Sample your flight instructors and your airports,” she said. “It’s in your best interest to explore and investigate. Instructors are different, and you might feel more comfortable with someone else.”

The only restriction involved with the program are that pilots must be 16 years old to fly, must be able to read, speak, write and understand English and not have any physical disabilities that would make them unable to fly the plane.

According to Garguilo, several high-profile locals have taken advantage of 2 Genes to learn to fly a plane, including Morgan Hill Mayor Dennis Kennedy and Gavilan Trustee Laura Perry.

And while some people have the opportunity to learn to fly, Garguilo said that many people don’t know that they can have an instructor take them on a site-seeing flight of the Valley – even if they aren’t interested in being a pilot.

“A lot of people are unfamiliar with what we offer.”

2 Genes offers flights up to two hours long that give an amazing view of the Bay Area.

“Typically, we take you our toward Half Moon Bay then down toward Santa Cruz and Monterey,” Garguilo said.

And reservations for the flights can be called in as early as the day before you want to fly.

Those interested in the Be A Pilot program can go to the Web site www.beapilot.com, call (888) BE A PILOT or call 2 Genes Aviation at 683-4102.

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