- Associated Press - Saturday, April 5, 2014

CALDWELL, Idaho (AP) - Helicopters take off and land every day at Caldwell Industrial Airport, whirling around the skies of southwest Idaho - and they’ve been doing it for the last 15 years.

“Have you ever tried to juggle while riding a unicycle? That’s kind of what it is like,” said Mike Shier, flight instructor at Silverhawk Aviation Academy.

The academy formed more than a decade ago when Catherine Weber and a business partner decided the Treasure Valley needed a helicopter flight school.

What started out with only a few students has transformed into an academy that recently partnered with Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Ore., and has about 80 students from around the nation and the world.


“We just kept getting busier and busier as our reputation got out there,” Weber said.

Students can go through the program on their own and make their own schedule, or become a student at the community college and get an associate degree in aviation science.

“There is a real shortage because so many of the Vietnam vets are retiring, and there just hasn’t been enough supplement to put enough pilots into the workforce,” Weber said. “So, it’s a really good market.”

Costs are about $65,000 to go through the program. Students generally graduate after a year or a year-and-a-half in the program. Once graduated, students will have their license, instrument ratings and log 200 hours of flight time. Students then have the ability to come back and become an instructor, Weber said.

When instructors leave, they usually have around 1,000 flight hours.

“Once you get your thousand hours, you’re pretty well set in the helicopter industry,” Weber said.

One student who has returned to become an instructor is Craig Furmage. Furmage first looked for a flight school in Australia, but schools in the U.S. were more economical. Idaho lured him in with the differing terrain and low restriction airspace.

Being an instructor versus a student has allowed Furmage to learn even more and to always be on guard.

“When you’re not sure what a student is going to do in a given situation, you have to be prepared to recover it and keep the aircraft safe,” Furmage said.

Furmage’s fellow instructors didn’t always have “helicopter pilot” on their horizon. Shier went to college, but wasn’t interested with anything he was doing. After his first ride in a helicopter, that all changed.

“The only problem is I can never go back and do that first flight again, because it was awesome,” Shier said.

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