The feeling of freedom: Students fly a Cessna 172 2,000 feet above the ground

Photo by Rachel Webster

It is time to fly. Walking across the concrete on a sunny Saturday afternoon with flight instructor Alex Anderson, I am ready to embark on an adventure I never thought would happen. We enter the tiny four-passenger plane. Alex starts the engine, we put on our headsets, check gauges and we are ready to taxi. Alex writes down the script I am to say to the tower to obtain approval for takeoff.

“Fargo Tower, Cessna 10897, at runway 18, Charlie intersection, ready for takeoff,”  I  say.

We pedal forward. Alex tells me I can grab the steering wheel and push in the throttle. We gain speed, approximately 55 miles per hour. I continue to push in the throttle until the propeller at the front is full speed. Faster and faster the plane rolls across the runway. Take-off is successful.

Taking control of the level of the plane is difficult at first; I push the wheel down to gain height and pull up when Alex suggests I do to go down. With a steady incline, we reach 2,000 feet above ground level. My ears pop. I check the levelness of the plane on the Garmin 1000 screen to make sure I am not going too far up into the clear, blue sky. We have reached our destination above Fargo, soon on to Moorhead.

Alex takes control of the plane for a moment to circle Concordia’s campus as pictures are taken.  After that, I had complete control over the plane. I flew over miles of flat land, watching bright white snow flash underneath me as the warm sun shines in my face. It’s a feeling of freedom.


For the past six years, English Professor Scott Olsen and his inquiry seminar class, “Exploration, Adventure and Risk,” make a field trip to the Fargo Jet Center, a flying school in Fargo, to give students the opportunity to see Fargo-Moorhead in a different way. Olsen’s inquiry class spends each fall semester reading a book a week about different thrill-seeking adventures real people have experienced.

“I wanted to give an experiential component to our books. The Fargo Jet Center offers discovery flights and you get to fly a plane for an hour,” Olsen said. “It is a gas!”

The Fargo Jet Center is a fully accredited flight school. Olsen said it is just like taking a field trip to ride a roller coaster, and the instructors are fully trained to handle any situation.

Olsen gives many opportunities for students to fly because oftentimes those who were first offered reject the idea because of the cost or the fear of having complete control of an object thousands of feet above ground.

“I have a number of students who fly to get over their fear. The most dangerous thing that is going to happen is you are going to land and you’ll say ‘I loved that,’” Olsen said. “Nobody goes out absolutely petrified; they are just unsure.”

The outcomes of the flying experience are different for many students. One year, Olsen lost a student who left Concordia to go to aviation school because he loved the experience so much.

“I always joke in class saying that I lost a student who was flying,” said Olsen.

Students fly a Cessna 172, a small white plane big enough for four people with a propeller in the front. Before beginning the flight, the instructor walks you around the plane so you can see how everything works mid-air. Once you are inside the plane, you have complete control over everything, but there is always an instructor by your side.

“They want you to have a good experience,” Olsen said. “They will plan to take you on a flight, but could cancel because the wind is too strong or it is too bumpy or cloudy.”

Those who have seen the movie “Top Gun” see the dozens of confusing buttons and levers you have to operate in the front, something you would expect in a large fighter plane. However, the Cessna 172 is equipped with the Garmin 1000, a single glass panel that allows you to control the plane.

Junior Caitlyn Schuchhardt was one student who wanted a thrill-seeking adventure. She hiked Scotland’s West Highland Way with Olsen’s inquiry class, and decided to go flying this fall.

“I could not resist flying,” Schuchhardt said. “It was absolutely amazing. What stood out to me was the new perspective it gave me. When you have the little window to look out [of in a commercial plane], [it] does not put into perspective being in the front.”

Schuchhardt said that high up in the air gave her a new perception that our life on campus is so small.

“It makes you realize that this place [Earth] is bigger than we think it is,” Schuchhardt said. “Whenever I get stressed, I think about the flight and what else is really out there.”

Although an instructor is always by your side to assist you, Schuchhardt remembers that she wasn’t babied.

“Every now and then my instructor would tell me to lean off of the wheel and balance out the plane,” Schuchhardt said.

Schuchhardt noticed there were quite a few buttons near the wheel, but thanks to the Garmin 1000, she didn’t need to touch any of them.

While they are helpful, the instructors also have a sense of humor. Halfway through the flight, the instructor said a prank they pull on students is to stall the plane in the sky to make it seem as if it was broken.

“They do that as a joke to people just to freak them out,” Schuchhardt said.

Thankfully, they gave her a forewarning during this lesson.

As the tour went on, the instructor allowed Schuchhardt to experiment with angles in the plane.

“We did some 60 degree turns,” Schuchhardt said. “[There was] lots of gravitational force that you feel from pulling up and down. It was like being on a crazy roller coaster, but more intense than that.”

But would she do it again?

“I would do it in a heartbeat. I have been entertaining these thoughts of getting the sports flying license,” Schuchhardt said. “You have to put in so many hours. The only thing holding me back is the cost. In the future, if I have the means to do so, I will get one. It is addicting, even from the first flight.”

Sophomore Ashley Jacobs was another student who was given the opportunity to fly a plane.

“Mentally I thought I was prepared from reading a few books that entailed each author’s experience with flying,” said Jacobs in an email interview, “but when I walked with my flight instructor, my heart began to race.”

After taking off into the air, the plane finally leveled out, and Jacobs was flying free. She had a whole new perspective on Fargo and Moorhead; she describes it as being frozen in time.

“While flying over Concordia, I remember looking down on Erickson and thinking, ‘Hmm. I wonder what my roommate is doing?’ It was weird looking at Concordia from above,” Jacobs said. “I realized that although school overwhelms us, it’s only one step on the path to pursuing our bigger goal in life. In perspective to the sky, Concordia was only a couple minutes of the journey.”

Looking back on her experience, Jacobs wasn’t scared, maybe a little nervous, but she felt secure in the plane.

“Maybe it was the adrenaline or the comfort of the instructor, but I believe it was the opportunity to conquer a whole new world at a level I had never experienced,” Jacobs said. “I liked the risk.”

After Jacobs‘ landing, Olsen opened the door and asked her how the flight was, but Jacobs was speechless.

“Now looking back, my chosen word would have been ‘free,’” she said.

If she had the opportunity in the future, Jacobs said she would do it again, and possibly pursue her pilot’s license in the near future.


As I prepare for landing, I lower the plane to 1,700 feet and circle the runway. Alex says to keep an eye on the four lights to the left of the runway that tell us if we are too high to land. I continue to lower the plane as the lights turn red. Closer and closer, the ground around me passes faster and faster until we land.





1 Comment

  1. I came across this article while searching for 10897, the tail number of this aircraft. – About 3 months ago I went up for a discovery flight in this exact plane and it honestly changed my life. It was amazing, just amazing. There are many great local airports with people ready to get you flying for the cost of a new snowmobile or jet-ski. Also – Google One Six Right, it’s free on now but if you have any interest in aviation, watch it, it’s amazing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *