Aviation isn’t for the faint of heart


Jackson A. Miller

CWU’s unique location allows the aviation program, aviation majors and pilots to train year around. Pilots have gained experience from the winds of Ellensburg trying to fly and land safely.

RachelAnn Degnan, Staff Reporter

His hands shakingly tightened on the control yoke as he took a deep breath. 

He thought to himself, “It’s just a little rougher today than normal.” 

His eyes glanced down at the bracelet that reminded him of the people he loved back on the ground. 

“I’ve got this,” he whispered to a quiet cabin occupied by his instructor and the hum of the engine. 

This wasn’t aviation junior Jackson Miller’s first time in a rough flight, but it certainly was the most memorable.

“I felt weird as I watched cars on the interstate driving faster than the plane was flying,” Miller said. “It was one of the first times I have dealt with 62 knots of wind.”

62 knots of wind is equivalent to 72 miles an hour and it creates turbulence near mountains, according to Miller.

“Ellensburg is surrounded by mountainous terrain and flying in and out of the valley during hard winds poses many challenges,” Miller said. “However, the real danger is the wind’s gust factor near the surface of the earth as we land and take off.”  

CWU’s unique location allows for aviation majors and pilots to train in rough windy conditions year-round.

“When I was getting my license in Seattle, I rarely had to deal with rough winds,” Miller said. “I chose CWU’s aviation program because I knew I would be properly trained on how to handle high wind situations among other things.”

Because of this training, Miller and his instructor landed safely on that gusty Monday on Oct. 19.

“Stepping off the plane, I felt a wave of accomplishment and pride at the amount of progress I have made since starting the program,” Miller said.

Aviation junior Grayson Alexander has complicated feelings about the wind.

”The wind is one of the most humbling factors in aviation,” Alexander said. “It’s different every time I fly and it’s like trying to tame a wild mustang.”

The challenging conditions have made Alexander a more confident pilot and helped him prepare for an adventurous career in aviation. 

“Students have really built up a great tolerance to the wind,” Alexander said. “It makes CWU aviation majors more confident and better prepared to take on difficult flying conditions.” 

When starting classes, aviation sophomore Stephen Culbertson was caught off-guard with his first lesson.

“One of the first things I learned at CWU was how to deal with the conditions,” Culbertson said. “They told me if I wanted to fly in Ellensburg I needed to learn to fly in wind.” 

At first, Culbertson thought that his instructors were being dramatic and were preparing him for the worst. 

“I had no idea I could fly backwards successfully. The wind was so strong, that I actually was being blown backwards and essentially losing progress,” Culbertson said. “It is definitely something not many people can say they have ever experienced.”