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Patrick Springer, Published September 30 2012

Students explore new heights in adventure class

FARGO – James Kloss, who has done a lot of hiking and backpacking, considers himself fairly adventuresome.

But before Sunday afternoon, the Concordia College freshman from Wadena, Minn., had never taken the stick of an airplane before.

In fact, he’d never so much as ridden in a single-engine airplane before.

But he found himself on the runway at Hector International Airport, his hands gripping the controls as the pilot throttled the engine and lifted the Cessna 172 into the air.

“Perfect,” the flight instructor, Blake Beitelspacher, said as the plane climbed to cruising altitude.

In just moments the buildings surrounding the airport shrank to toy size as they became more distant.

“How’s that?” the instructor asked the student. “Pretty cool?”

“Yeah,” Kloss replied, his eyes focused straight ahead as he was beginning the most unusual class field trip he’s experienced.

Kloss, a biology student planning on a career as a physical therapist, is one of 19 students in Scott Olsen’s inquiry class at Concordia, “Adventure, Exploration and Risk,” who took flying lessons this weekend.

“Experiential learning is everything,” Olsen said. It’s one thing to read about aviation, another to experience it, yet another to connect the two. “The thinking explodes.”

In preparation for Sunday’s flight, the students have been reading aviation adventure narratives. Now, having sampled flight with a hand at the controls, they have a fresh perspective.

“It’s a completely different understanding of the reading,” says Olsen, who became a pilot five or six years ago while writing a book, “Hard Air.”

In the Cessna, Kloss and Beitelspacher kept climbing and then leveled off above 1,000 feet on a westerly course. Then before reaching Interstate 29, the instructor had the student make a banking turn to the south.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Beitelspacher said, in a tone that was companionable and reassuring.

The ride was a bit bumpy – thermals, the instructor explained, pockets of warmer air from heat radiating from the ground. Another banking turn, toward downtown, and an altitude of about 2,000 feet.

“Nice and smooth,” Beitelspacher said, congratulating Kloss for keeping the wings level, as south Fargo passed beneath them.

They indulged in a bit of small talk over the drone of the engine – about how Fargo looked smaller from the ground. Beitelspacher pointed to a kayaker paddling on the Red River.

“You always see something new up here every day,” said Beitelspacher, who has been a pilot for five years and a flight instructor since April.

The pilot quipped that Kloss is doing so well that he should take a complete series of lessons to get his pilot’s license.

“Talk to my parents,” Kloss answered, grinning.

Turning east, the plane soon soared over Concordia, and the instructor had his student circle the campus.

“There’s my dorm,” Kloss announced, adding a few moments later that the track looks small and that he spotted other tracks and ballfields in the neighborhood he never knew existed.

Soon it was time to head back, and when the airport was near, Beitelspacher took full control for the approach and landing.

“It was fun,” Kloss said. “Everything is different. You see so much more.”

Flying high overhead made him feel disconnected from the people he saw below, unable to strike up a conversation or wave to a passerby.

“You don’t really feel a part of it,” Kloss said of the world as glimpsed from a cockpit at 2,000 feet. “You’re just kind of looking down. It was cool.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522