John Creason and an Outlaw Aviation Cessna 172. The instructor is helping Sisters students learn to fly. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
John Creason and an Outlaw Aviation Cessna 172. The instructor is helping Sisters students learn to fly. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee

Flight instructor John Creason looked pleased as he watched the Cessna 172 receive its new Outlaw Aviation tail art. The logo identifies it as being the flagship of the Aviation Flight Science course at Sisters High School.

Creason remembers wanting to fly since he was a kid. Four years ago, he quit his bank analyst job and moved to Bend. He enrolled in the aviation program at COCC to test-drive his dream job.

"I wasn't happy at a desk job, so I decided to just go for what I've always dreamed about - a career in aviation," said Creason. "I finished the COCC program and earned my CFI (Certificated Flight Instructor) credentials in a year and a half, and never looked back."

After Creason earned his CFI, he became a flight instructor in Portland, then did aerial mapping in Idaho and Arizona. While in Arizona last January, he received a phone call from Brian Lansburgh, a friend and CFI in Sisters, asking him if he would like to work as a flight instructor at Sisters Eagle Airport.

"Brian explained that they needed a flight instructor to give the students who were enrolled in the Flight Science class hands-on flight training. I jumped at the chance and moved back to Bend," Creason said.

Sisters Eagle Airport is a full partner in the program, making their facility available to the students. The owners of the airport, Benny and Julie Benson, purchased the Cessna 172 for flight instruction, and offer it at a discount rate for high school students.

"The program is catching on," Julie Benson said. "Last year, teacher Jon Renner started with only seven students. This year there are 28. I've heard from parents wanting to transfer their kids in, and even move to Sisters, so their kids can learn to fly here."

All enrolled students begin with a "Young Eagles" flight, a program developed by the Experimental Aircraft Association. Local volunteer pilots give the students a flight, at no charge, in their own person aircraft. All the students enrolled in the Aviation Science class get the chance to experience the thrill of flight. That introductory flight enables the kids to access an online private pilot ground school course from Sporty's Pilot Shop. The class at SHS uses that course as their curriculum. Successful completion prepares the students to take the FAA written exam for their private pilot license.

Julie Benson was enthusiastic as she related her daughter's experience with the course.

"Cammi got her driver's license and flew her first solo the same week." Benson said.

Last April, 16-year-old Cammi Benson, a sophomore at Sisters High School, was the first student to solo out of the Aviation Science program. She has also passed the written exam for her license.

Creason is already instructing two more pre-solo students from the Flight Science course, Bethany Bachmeier and Seth Roy. Typically flying lessons can be expensive, but both students have received scholarship funds that enable them to fly without incurring personal expense. Other students are scheduled to begin flying soon, and several adults will be taking advantage of the Outlaw Aviation airplane and its Sisters-based flight instructor.

Learning to fly integrates the study of aerodynamics, physics, navigation and meteorology. Benny Benson added, "We think one key factor in making this high school aviation class successful will be to provide actual flight experience. The ground school by itself isn't enough to keep their interest. Once they start flying, that's when all the theories and equations they learned in science and math classes make practical sense. They really understood how everything works together."

And that may be the big advantage that this one-of-a-kind program offered at Sisters High School. It's a unique opportunity available to Sisters high school students, and now they have their own airplane just down the street at the Sisters airport.

"I am committed to helping this program grow, and sharing my love of flying with kids," Creason said, smiling. And, judging from the grins on his students' faces when they make their first unassisted landing, he's on to something.