ACE high

CNCC aviation program gives novices a shot to earn their wings

You can see forever up here.

There's the town of Hayden to the west, Steamboat Springs to the east. Snow-covered ground, rugged mountains and a long stretch of U.S. Highway 40 in between.

There's the Hayden Station power plant, and the origin point, Runway 10 at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

And behind the light blue horizon, there is forever.

On this day -- a sunny, cold Friday morning -- there's a light headwind, but there is no shove, no bullfight with gravity jostling the single engine Cesna 172-P, or Skyhawk II. Its designated flight plan is basic -- a no-nonsense 30-minute weave through the clear Routt County skies.

"There's no barrel rolls or aerobatics," flight instructor Diane Micci said.

At 105 knots and 9,000 feet, on the periphery of Steamboat Springs, Micci turns her attention away from the console of gadgets, panels and instruments. She speaks into her headset and the following words come out:

"Are you ready to take over?"

Such is the simplicity of life in the skies, where a novice can become a pilot -- at least a rookie one -- in a matter of minutes. The experience is now being offered to residents in Craig, Steamboat Springs and Hayden through the Aviation Continuing Education program at Colorado Northwestern Community College.

CNCC's Rangely campus has offered flying lessons for college credit for 40 years. ACE is an expansion of those lessons without the college credit.

The program is now being offered at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, located east of Hayden.

Micci, a graduate of CNCC's aviation program and a flight instructor since 2004, teaches the courses. For $59, Top Gun wannabes can take an introductory, 30- to 40-minute flight with Micci.

"We take them up and actually give them a flying lesson," she said. "You don't have to be a degree-seeking student to fly with me out in Hayden. ... It's designed more for anyone that wants to fly."

From the cockpit on Friday, Micci talked about why the deep blue is so appealing. In addition to being a flight instructor, she also has worked as a corporate pilot.

"I really enjoy the feeling of it all, the challenge you can have with it," she said, "and the scenery is nice, too."

Students taking the ACE program eventually can earn private, commercial and flight instructor licenses, and rating requirements.

Dave Cole, a program director at the CNCC Rangely campus aviation program, said ACE's expansion in Moffat and Routt counties was a natural progression, and that the program in Hayden could accommodate 15 to 20 students.

Cole and Micci give credit to Spectrum Jet Center for partnering with CNCC to offer the program.

Jane Harelik, the sole owner of Spectrum for the past 21 years, said the company's offering is a way to groom future aviators and give back to the community.

"If we don't bring along the next generation of pilots, we might all be out of work," Harelik said. "We just felt like it was a community service and a service to the aviation industry."

On Friday, Micci ran a point-by-point check of the aircraft before lift off. There are 15 checks during the course of the flight. She said aircrafts used for training flights are meticulously maintained.

"We don't use duct tape," she said. "We find a problem, we fix it with a new part."

Heading back west, toward the airport, Micci lowered the plane's speed and began preparing for landing.

With a strip of pavement underneath, she eased the plane onto the asphalt and taxied back toward the hanger, the day's soaring glide through the Colorado skies complete.

"And that's what we're selling to get people started off," Micci said. "We'd sure like to see more people take advantage of having this here."

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