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Flight student Nick Le Tourneau, left, is taking lessons from instructor Luke Stromme at Wings Flight Training in Perham. Le Tourneau hopes to become an Air Force pilot. BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE

Flight school helps dreams come true

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Pride. Passion. Purpose.

It is those three things that Rich McCrady stresses in both life and work. And he has made it his work to help those interested in aviation find pride, passion and purpose in flying.

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McCrady has started the Wings Flight Training school, with the help of instructors Kent Thompson and Luke Stromme, under Lakes Aviation, LLC, at the Perham Municipal Airport.

Wings Flight Training is an FAA-approved Part 61 flight training school, offering multiple programs.

“There is still a mystique behind aviation. People say, ‘I could never do that.’ The most dangerous part though is the drive to the airport,” he said.

That’s why he and the flight instructors are asking people to just come visit, sit in the plane and get a feel for aviation and help get rid of that mystique.

Landing in Perham

McCrady said he first planned to bring the flight training school to Detroit Lakes but it just wasn’t the right time.

“And timing is everything,” he said.

That’s not to say that he won’t end up having the flight school in Detroit Lakes as well as Perham in the future though.

Although the flight school plan has been formulating for about a year or so, last month was the official launch, and they are looking for more students to take into the sky.

One of those students is Nick Le Tourneau. Though he only started flying about a month ago, Le Tourneau said aviation has been a passion for much longer than that.

“I’m going into the Air Force and I’ve always had a passion for flying,” he said.

Once he graduated from high school this year, he finally had the financial means to take flying lessons. He hopes to complete his training by the end of the summer.

Having his private pilot license will give him a much better shot at flying in the Air Force as well. And while it will help with his service, the lessons were certainly for personal fulfillment, too.

“I was afraid I had been looking through rose-colored glasses forever,” he said was his only fear of starting lessons. “But I couldn’t stop smiling after my first lesson.”

Le Tourneau is working with Stromme, who is manager of operations at the airport besides an instructor, and said they are already building a good relationship.

According to statistics, the relationship between student and instructor is the No. 1 reason people finish their training and get the license.

For every hour a student spends in the air flying, they spend about three hours studying on the ground.

“Whether you’re flying or not, you can still be learning,” Stromme said.

He said that every student is different in the amount of time it takes them to earn their license — but by providing schedule flexibility, he hopes to get students through the program as quickly as they would like.

If only the weather would cooperate.

Le Tourneau said that’s been one of the reasons he hasn’t gotten to fly quite as much as he would have liked in the last month.

Getting their wings

Though McCrady started flying in the 1960s, it was on and off over the years. After retiring in 2007, “I had some time on my hands and started flying again.”

After living in Eagan for 38 years, in 2000, McCrady started looking for lake property in the area. A realtor friend tried to get him to look at a lot in January of 2001, but, as he laughs now, how could he even tell what the property looked like buried under the snow? But that summer he came back to the area and purchased land in the Vergas area.

Then in 2007, he turned his business over to his son and came to the lakes area to eventually start the flight company.

He met Thompson in 2001 and Thompson was already working at the airport for Dale Fehrenbach, who owned a business at the airport. Once McCrady started his business, Thompson transitioned and now serves as the chief flight instructor at the school. He also spends a lot of his time chartering, or taxiing, flights for people. 

“He is the most accomplished pilot in this area,” McCrady said of Thompson.

Thompson started flying in the late 1970s, but like McCrady, it was an on-again-off-again thing.

After working for the State Patrol for many years in Detroit Lakes, the opportunity arose in the State Patrol flight section. So within a year, he earned his private pilot, instrument and commercial licenses.

But, the job would have taken him to the metro area, something that his family decided against.

So instead he got his instructor rating and helped Fehrenbach teach at the Perham airport. He retired from the State Patrol three years ago, and he said his wife says she sees him even less now.

“It’s not retirement, but just a career change,” he said.

“(Growing up) I was either going to be a cop or a pilot. I was a cop for 30 years but in the back (of my mind) I’ve always wanted to be a pilot.”

Not only does he enjoy his time in the air, he also enjoys teaching students.

“You have to enjoy instructing to be an instructor,” he said.

With the people he has taught over the last several years, he said one thing is for sure, it’s the landings that are the hardest. Taking off is no problem, but “getting them back on the ground is the issue.”

On the plus side though, “there hasn’t been anybody I couldn’t teach.”

Stromme said he has a story of getting into aviation similar to his student, Le Tourneau. He grew up in Perham and went for a ride in an airplane during Turtle Fest as a youngster and was instantly interested in flying.

So after high school he attended college for aviation and now teaches at Lakes Aviation.

The men plan to host some events this summer to get more people to the airport and interested in flying.

“They just need to come out and try it,” Le Tourneau said. “It’s a new kind of environment – can’t compare it to anything.”

Providing opportunities

Aviation is a growing industry. According to Boeing and the Wall Street Journal, the airline industry is expected to grow over the next couple years, opening up hundreds of thousands of jobs for pilots. Wings Flight Training is trying to help with that gap though.

Flying, and the Wings Flight Training, “can provide incredible opportunity for people,” McCrady said.

There are four principles to the flight school – safety, personalized training, affordability and exceptional value and a commitment to student success.

Wings Flight training offers 12 different programs.

For more information on the programs, cost or the flight school, visit www.wingsflighttraining.net.

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