FARGO - A place in the clouds might just be in Amber Grindeland's DNA. The North Dakota State University architecture student grew up in a family rooted in the aviation world. Her dad, uncle and family friends still fly under the name "Hatton Flying Circus."
Grindeland, 21, started flying in 2011. After taking a break from flight, she recently returned to her pastime and started taking lessons to earn her pilot's certification through the Fargo Jet Center's flight school.
"After two flights, I realized that she was a natural," said Blake Beitelspacher, a flight instructor with Fargo Flight School. "This must have been passed down by her flying family."
Grindeland isn't alone; the flight school is open to anyone willing and able to take to the skies. Training is increasingly popular among college students and business professionals, said Beitelspacher.
"There are no prerequisites," Beitelspacher said. "We have people from 15 years old into their 70s that are flying."
Learning by doing
The school prepares students from start to finish for their private pilot's certificate. Flight training in a Cessna 172 four-seat, single-engine airplane consists of three phases: ground training, flying and flight tests.
A Cessna Computer Based Instruction kit students purchase and study at home is used for ground training. The computer program includes instruction on weight and balance, weather, performance factors, takeoff and landing distances, airspace and any other variables needed before stepping into the cockpit.
"We try to make it more practical and application based. We don't want you to do a lecture format; we want you involved," Beitelspacher said.
Once student pilots get a feel for flight through the simulated computer program, it's time to put them behind the controls.
Flying includes a minimum of 40 hours of flight training during which an instructor sits in the right-hand seat of the cockpit to work on exercises. Another 10 hours of solo cross-country flying is also required, and on average, students train for about 60 hours learning all the basic regulations.
The Fargo Jet Center employs four full-time flight instructors but can increase that number depending on the need.
"I need to be there to ensure safety, teach, critique, evaluate, motivate, encourage and push them to achieve their best," said Beitelspacher. "After spending 40 hours in the airplane with my students, I get to share in their struggles and accomplishments."
Beitelspacher finds training rewarding by helping his students discover his own passion of flying. New friendships are formed with the bond of aviation, but it's not all fun. He makes sure to mix in serious situations.
"What would scare most people is probably a common thing to me," he said. "For lack of a better term, landings can get interesting. I need to make a quick judgment call at times."
"We do all sorts of maneuvers," Grindeland said. "Steep turns, turns around a point to prove we can keep the airplane under control, takeoffs and landings."
Landings proved the most difficult aspect of training for the novice pilot.
"I've done so many landings," she said. "For me, that has been the hardest part of the training because I have high standards for myself."
Practical flight testing is the final part of training. Students need to pass a written test, ground tests with an examiner and take a flight test before they receive their certificate.
"If you meet within standards, you can get your license," Beitelspacher said. "There's a difference between being legal and being safe. We want to make sure you can handle what's being thrown at you down the line as a pilot."
A way to unwind
Although she grew up around airplanes, Grindeland still had a few jitters when it came to her first solo flight.
"I was really nervous," said Grindeland. "I remember I was kind of shaking. But it went really well and everything was fine. Realistically, nothing that bad could have happened."
Grindeland has accumulated all her flight training hours and is prepping to take the final test to earn her license.
But Grindeland won't be taking a job as a pilot when she finishes training - she wants to continue on her architecture path. But she will use the sky as a way to unwind.
"It was always kind of meant to be strictly hobby; I mean, I don't have any need for it other than that right now," she said. "If I'm in a bad mood before I go, afterwards I just feel like 'Why was I upset?' It's kind of relaxing."
Carrie Snyder is a staff photographer at The Forum. Readers can reach her at (701) 241-5516