Central Oregon Home to Bustling Aviation Community 

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((Left) The Trenz’s Flying over Eagle Cap Wilderness. (Right) Canyonlands, San Rafael Reef area, South Central Utah | Photos Courtesy of Clay Trenz)

Central Oregon is home to a bustling General Aviation (GA) community comprised of aircraft manufacturers, component fabricators, systems designers, firefighting operators, medical transport, a world-class warbird aircraft museum and sophisticated flight training facilities. The GA industry across Central Oregon employs over 1,000 individuals (Oregon Aviation Assn.) As a rule, this group is well-educated, fun-loving, adventurous, safety-minded and eager to share their passion. Ironically, almost all Central Oregon aviation businesses are located on-premise at local airports making them lessor known to many Central Oregonians. Over the past twenty years, I’ve been asked by many long-time residents about the location of various GA airports. 

Since the onset of COVID-19, commercial air travel has become complicated but segments of general aviation have flourished as people seek a flexible and safer means of transportation. “The personal and leisure side of our business is nearly back to pre-COVID levels and new interest in private aviation is up like nothing I have ever seen,” said Patrick Gallagher, president of sales and marketing at NetJets NetJets Insights July 2020 (netjets.com). 

Oregon has 98 public use airports and another ~100 private airports but only eight airports offer commercial airline service. Therefore, having access to GA directly connects Central Oregonians to family, friends, clients and employment opportunities located elsewhere while saving time and maximizing productivity. At the Bend airport, locally based real estate developers, home builders, corporate executives, entrepreneurs and a wide variety of small- to medium-sized business owners utilize general aviation to conduct business on a daily basis. 

A modest single-engine GA aircraft can propel you to Boise, Idaho in 1.5hrs, Reno, Nevada in 2.0hrs, San Francisco, California in 2.5hrs, Seattle, Washington in 1.5hrs or Newport, Oregon in in 1.0hr. If you want to make a faster trip, take a look at locally produced aircraft like the Epic E1000GX (epicaircraft.com/epic-certified-e1000) or RDD Enterprises LX7 (rddent.com/lx7.html). Keep an eye on Redmond-based Stratos Aircraft (stratosaircraft.com); they are developing a single-engine six-seat jet aircraft with plans to pursue FAA certification within the next couple of years. 

Options for GA travel include aircraft rental, private aircraft ownership, fractional ownership or chartering aircraft from a FAA Part 135 on-demand operator such as Bend Air Taxi (bendairtaxi.com). Additionally, the FAA authorizes sharing of pro rata flight expenses between pilots and passengers (Federal Aviation Reg. 61.113). So, you can legally “hop a ride” with a pilot friend in their personal or rented aircraft. Bend Aircraft Mechanics (bendaircraft.com) and Leading Edge Flight Academy (flybend.com) offer the largest fleets of local rental aircraft. 

Central Oregon offers a wide variety of flight training options: 

For youngsters, check out Outlaw Aviation at Sisters airport (outlaw-aviation.com). Outlaw has collaborated with Sisters High School to offer a Flight Science Program. The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) offers a Young Eagles program for children ages 8-17 (chapters.eaa.org/eaa1345/ongoing-activities/young-eagles). The Young Eagles program provides children an opportunity to go flying in a GA aircraft and has flown over two million children since 1992. 

For aviation-minded college students, Central Oregon Community College (COCC) offers a Professional Pilot Program (cocc.edu/programs/aviation). Here, fixed-wing, helicopter, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) certification can be pursued along with an Associate Degree. Ground training is conducted at the COCC campus and flight training is provided by Leading Edge Fight Training Academy at the Bend airport. Note, COCC classes can be attended individually for those looking to explore or brush-up on various GA subject matter. 

If you are thinking about adding GA to your lifestyle, take a look at Bend Aircraft Mechanics or Leading Edge Flight Academy Apex (flybend.com/aviation-lifestyle-pilot). Both facilities offer highly structured (FAA Part 141) or a “Go at Your Own Pace” (FAA Part 61) curriculums from Student Pilot to Airline Transport Pilot certificates. Leading Edge offers Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) training operating as a Cirrus Training Center. As a flight instructor, I recommend students begin ground-based training during the fall/winter months so they are well-prepared to fly the following spring. Commonly, it requires four-six months to complete the flight training portion of Private Pilot certification; being able to fly often helps shorten that timeline. “One should expect to invest $8,000-$10,000 toward a Private Pilot Certificate,” Hayden Vardaman Bend Aircraft Mechanics in-house CFI/FAA Designated Pilot Examiner. Other useful offerings include “Rusty Pilot” and “Flying Companion” courses from each facility. I will attest that flying is more fun when your spouse comes along to enjoy the ride!

For those looking for a very exciting airplane ride or aviators looking to “Take Things Up a Notch,” check out Specialized Aero Works (specializedaeroworks.com) at the Bend airport. They offer aerobatic adventure flights, aerobatic, Upset Recovery & Prevention and backcountry flight training. This group offers the ultimate general aviation experience in Central Oregon. Especially, if you like to see remote locations or the world upside down! 

For those who prefer to stay on the ground but enjoy being in the presence of history-making world-class aircraft, stop by Madras airport to see the Erikson Aircraft Collection (ericksoncollection.com). This is one of the finest warbird collections in the world. 

When you fly, you are not just logging flight time. You are also logging memories that will last a lifetime. Along the way, you will likely discover and visit places of which you have never heard. 

Clay Trenz is a certified flight instructor (CFII)/Airline Transport Pilot (ATP).

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