Taking it to the skies
TRAVIS MORTON, 22, and the Cessna Skyhawk 172 he will be using at his newly established flight school, Sonoma Valley Flying Club.
It took one plane ride with the Young Eagles program for 12-year-old Travis Morton to decide he wanted to become a pilot. Now, 10 years later, he has more than accomplished his dream, opening his own flight school on April 1 at Sonoma Skypark.
"(The business) happened sort of naturally after I bought my first plane," said the 22-year-old with more than 700 hours of flight experience.
The Sonoma Valley Flying Club, the only flight school in Sonoma, is officially accepting new students this week. In addition to the flight school, the business will also offer airplane rentals for visiting pilots and sky tours for those wanting to glimpse the Bay Area from 1,500 feet. Morton has hired three instructors - Andy Smith, John Carmichael and Mike Harris - all of whom are familiar faces for the young pilot and teacher.
"All of them have been my instructors at one point or another," he said.
In the coming weeks, Morton will also become a certified aerobatics flight instructor, meaning he can begin teaching death-defying barrel rolls, loops and other aerial tricks. He plans to compete in aerobatic competitions outside his work of running the flight school, using his 1974 Bellanca, the first aircraft he ever bought, which cost $40,000.
'I don't have a car, I ride my bike to the airport," he said. "This is my only big expense."
In addition to the Bellanca, Morton is leasing a 2002 Cessna Skyhawk 172, a four-person aircraft that will be used for flight instruction. He hopes to add a wider range of planes to the school in coming years, but says students can obtain their private pilots license operating either of his aircraft. He said most aspiring pilots should plan to log 50 hours of flying time in addition to book study and oral testing.
"But in the first lesson, we jump in an airplane and go," Morton said.
Morton said he's depending on close mentors and books to better understand the business side of his flight school. When the venture takes off, he plans to hire a bookkeeper to allow him to spend more time in the skies instead of the office he is renting at the Skypark.
After attending Sonoma Charter School, Morton went on to several high schools, including Marin Academy and Sonoma Valley High School, before deciding to obtain his GED.
"I just hated the structure of school," he said, adding that he instead threw himself into his flying education.
As a young boy in Sonoma, it seemed unlikely that Morton would set his sights on the skies - largely because of his acute fear of heights. "I was a super scared kid," he said.
His opinion changed after experiencing his first small aircraft flight with the Young Eagles, a program that invites youths to take a plane ride and learn about flying from an experienced pilot.
By age 19, he obtained his Private Single Engine license and six months later earned his Commercial license, with multi-engine, instrument, tail-wheel and high performance ratings.
Morton continues to volunteer with the Young Eagles, and said he'll offer large discounts on plane rentals to any pilot who is taking up students of the program. He also volunteers with Challenge Sonoma, the ropes course program at the Sonoma Developmental Center. And, he is the president of the Experimental Aircraft Association at the Skypark, where he hopes to offer more events and activities for the public.
For more information, call 939-8333 or visit www.sonomaflying.com.