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Kalispell, MT 59901
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Young Pilots Revel in Freedom of Flight

Posted: Saturday, January 15, 2011 Tue Nov 3, 2009.

Daniel Jentz Photo by Rex Short
Daniel Jentz
Photo by Rex Short

By KRISTI ALBERTSON/Daily Inter Lake

The first time Daniel Jentz went up alone in a Cessna 172, he was overwhelmed by a sense of freedom.

“It was neat to be up there by myself,” he said. “Nobody else is there in the sky telling you what to do.”

Britney Petrina knows exactly what Jentz meant.

“It’s just completely up to me,” she said of piloting an airplane. “I can go wherever I want, do (almost) whatever I want. I can do anything. It’s absolutely up to me.”

Petrina and Jentz said that freedom is the best thing about flying. The high school seniors, both 17, earned their pilot’s licenses in November.

Jentz, a student at Stillwater Christian School, said he has wanted to be a pilot for years.

“I’ve always wanted to fly,” he said..

He paid for lessons out of earnings from his own lawn-care business. Lessons cost $135 an hour, and he had to chalk up 40 hours to get licensed. That translated into a lot of lawns, Jentz said.

“I’ve been saving up for the last eight years,” he said.

He took lessons from Petrina’s mother, Michelle, a flight instructor out of Glacier Jet Center at Glacier Park International Airport. He started training during summer 2009, but didn’t have enough time or money to finish before school started. He picked up his lessons again last summer.

The scariest moment in all those lessons was the first time he practiced recovering from a stalled engine. It suddenly hit him: “We’re not flying any more. We’re falling to the earth.”

But he recovered just fine and on Nov. 2, Jentz received his license. Later that month, he took his father, Tom, up for a ride.

His dad was nervous, Jentz said, but his mother, Tamie, was the one who really had worried about his lessons.

“My mom was really hesitant,” he said. “But Michelle talked to her a lot, and we got that taken care of.”

His first flight was an orientation flight in a Cessna 182 during summer 2008. The Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, offers flights as an incentive to new members, Jentz said.

“That really got me hooked,” he said..

“I really want to serve my country rather than just sit back and enjoy the freedoms that we all have,” he said..

He has been appointed to the U.S. Air Force, Military and Merchant Marine academies and will find out by mid-April whether he has been accepted to his first choice, the Air Force Academy.

Britney Petrina Photo by Rex Short
Britney Petrina
Photo by Rex Short

Petrina said she, too, wants to serve her country and has been a member of the Civil Air Patrol since the 10th grade.

“I’ve always had it,” she said of her desire to join the military. “I’ve always had that admiration for servicemen and women.”

Petrina, a senior at Whitefish High School, has been appointed to the U.S. Air Force, Naval and Merchant Marine academies. She hopes to get into the Air Force or Navy, but since both are “really, really competitive,” she’ll be happy to go to either one.

Petrina’s desire to become a pilot is at least as old as her military

dream. With a mother who’s a pilot, there was no escaping it, she said.

“I’ve always been flying with her since I could remember,” she said. “I inherited a love for aviation.”

Going from passenger to pilot “was a very difficult transition, but it’s exciting to have that responsibility,” she said.

Petrina took most of her lessons from a family friend instead of from her mother.

“It’s sometimes difficult to have your mom teach you,” she explained..

Her mother did catch the tail end of Petrina’s first solo flight. She was flying back from another part of the state and arrived in the Flathead when her daughter was in the air, Petrina said.

“My mom was definitely excited when I did my first solo,” she said.

That excitement, and the thrill of flying itself, is why other high school students should pursue their pilot’s licenses, Petrina said.

“I’d really like to encourage others, if they have the teensiest interest in aviation, to go up and do a general flight,” she said.

“There are always people who can help you, especially if you’re in high school or college,” she said. “The general aviation community is very close..

“Anyone can fly,” she added. “If you have the dedication, you can definitely do it.”

Reporter Kristi Albertson may be reached at 758-4438 or at kalbertson@dailyinterlake.com.