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She's earned her wings

Kendra Wiegand, a WHS senior, earns her private pilots license at Aurora Aviation


Kendra Wiegand has lofty ambitions. Last month, the Wilsonville High School senior met one of her biggest goals when she earned her private pilot’s license Nov. 22.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Wiegand earned her private pilots license at Aurora Aviation last month.Wiegand’s interest in aviation started early in life. A Wilsonville resident since 2003, she lived with her family in Minnesota when she was younger, and the family would fly to visit relatives a few times each year.

“I loved it,” she said. “That’s where it started.”

Although she had been a passenger on many commercial airlines, she had never sat in a small plane until she started looking into taking lessons.

Her parents encouraged her to look into flying lessons, but they weren’t sure how serious she really was.

“When she kept asking about taking lessons, we asked her, ‘Do you know how expensive lessons are? How will you pay for this?’” her mother, Jane Wiegand, recalled. “We encouraged her to go talk in person to Aurora Aviation and see what information she could gather.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Wiegand is licensed to fly solo, with or without passengers.She worked for three years at a veterinarian’s office, saving money to pay for flight lessons. When she went to Aurora Aviation to schedule a test flight, to her surprise, the flight instructor stopped her as she headed for the passenger’s side of the plane.

“You’re the pilot today,” he told her as he steered her toward the right side of the plane.

“I’d never been in a small plane before,” she said. “I knew nothing about small planes. He didn’t have his hand on the yoke or his feet on the rudders. He told me how to do it and I took off.”

“She has always enjoyed crazy roller coasters without feeling sick so we were not surprised when she handled her first little plane ride well,” Jane Wiegand said.

In the process of qualifying for her private pilot license, Wiegand logged a total of 40 “engine hours.” That means she could count only the time she was actually in the airplane, with the engine running. Time spent on activities like preflight checks didn’t count.

“It takes longer than you think,” she said. “A lot of my flights were .7 or .5 hours. I could be at Aurora for two hours but only log a half hour.”

Her first solo flight was in July, and she expected to complete all the requirements and exams to earn her license by the end of August. That plan had one big flaw, though.

“By the time I felt ready, the weather fell apart,” she said.

Wiegand waited while the weather cleared and she completed her training. After she logged the necessary hours and gained the required experience, Wiegand took a written test, sat for an oral examination with an examiner certified by the Federal Aviation Authority and passed an in-flight practical test. The oral exam was the most grueling, she said, even though her instructor told her she was well prepared.

“You just sit down and they grill you,” she said. “Mine lasted five and a half hours. My brain was fried after it.”

She passed all the tests with flying colors, though, and after 18 months of training is now licensed to fly on her own or with passengers. While she’s earth-bound, Wiegand dreams of attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University but knows that’s a long shot. She is considering Oregon State University, where she would plan to earn a business management degree, though she hopes to become an airline transport pilot and fly long-distance routes.

“Airlines don’t care what your degree is. They just want you to go to college,” she said. “At OSU they have a flying club, so that’s a good way to get hours and experience.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Wiegand snapped this arial photo of Wilsonville High School.Her path to her pilot’s license progressed more smoothly than the process of earning her driver’s license.

“I got my learning permit a week after I turned 15,” she said. “A week after that, I got my first speeding ticket. That didn’t go over very well.”

Once she earned her driver’s license, the long arm of the law caught her again.

“I got my license about a month after my 16th birthday. Six months later, I got another speeding ticket. A month after that, I got another one. Then I got a letter in the mail saying my license was suspended for three months,” she said.

“There’s a worst driver of the year award listed in the WHS yearbook. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get it,” she added.

It’s different for her when she sits in the pilot’s seat. Up in the air, Wiegand feels competent and focused.

“When I’m flying, I don’t get bored. You’re always watching traffic, always communicating. It’s continuous checking. Once I’m up there, I feel in control. If anything were to happen, it’d be on me,” she said. “I kind of like that feeling, knowing that I know how to take care of it.”

Her family is supportive of her aerial endeavors. She took up her first passenger, older sister Tiera, over Thanksgiving break, and had plans to take friends up too. Someday, she said, she is certain that her parents, John and Jane Wiegand, will join her in the air, although they are not fans of small aircraft.

“They’re happy to watch from the ground,” she said. “I think eventually they’ll be happy when I get more experience.”

“We realized this is her dream and we tried to help her make it a reality,” Jane Wiegand said.

In the meantime, Wiegand’s parents can take comfort in knowing that their daughter is unlikely to get a speeding ticket when she’s in the air.

“Unless you break the sound barrier,” she said with a grin.

Kate Hoots can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow her on Twitter @CommuniKater.




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