The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

July 28, 2013

Up, up and away

Jack Clemens spends 60 years living and teaching his love of aircraft

For thousands of years, people dreamed about flying. Many tried, but it wasn’t until the days of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk that man was able to take flight.

For the past hundred years, airplanes have been made safer and easier to use, although the events of 9/11 made the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) a tad more suspicious.

We are at the point where human flight is open to just about everyone, even the likes of flyboys Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Accordingly, it’s become painless for someone to get their private pilot’s license.

By getting yours, you’ll be able to take joy rides with your friends and family, take part in volunteer search and rescue missions, fly yourself to business meetings, while learning to fly. You can also take your business associates with you when you fly and become an acrobat of the sky.

That’s where Jack Clemens comes into the picture.

Clemens, owner of Jack’s Flying Service at the Raleigh County Memorial Airport, has been flying for some 60 years and his safety record is one of the models of aviation everywhere.

Plus he’s been teaching flying and helping students get their pilot’s licenses for more than 40 years.

“Even though everyone refers to this piece of paper as a license, the technical term is, in fact, a certificate,” Clemens explained. “You may also be permitted to take passengers along, but you can’t charge them for the ride, although you may split costs with them.”

Clemens noted that after you’ve received your private pilot’s license, you’ll be allowed to work your way up and get other certificates that will allow you to pilot commercial airlines or act as an instructor. Furthermore, you can also get different ratings to add to your license. These ratings might allow you to fly multi-engine airplanes, navigate in bad weather or fly different contraptions like helicopters, seaplanes, balloons and gliders.  Getting a pilot’s license, according to Clemens, opens doors of opportunities you may never have envisioned before.

Practical training is an inherent part of learning. Over the course of your education, you’ll fly between 30 and 40 hours with your instructor. Each lesson will take about two hours, although you’ll often spend only one in the air, considering pre- and post-flight briefings.

“Most students will actually complete around 70 hours of flight before finishing the program, making certain that they know the aircraft inside and out before going out on their own,” Clemens explained. “There are some intensive training courses that can be completed in less than a month, but students generally take about five months to complete the training.”

The last stage of your training consists of the instructor stepping off the plane and letting you fly by yourself. Once you do this successfully, you’re ready to try out for your license.

In addition, you must take a FAA written test, which is actually administered on computers.

The last phase of licensing is called the check ride. You’ll meet an FAA examiner and he’ll start by asking you questions vocally. If the guy thinks you did a fantastic job, you’ll be issued a temporary pilot certificate. Within a couple of months, the FAA will send you your permanent pilot’s license in the mail.

How and when did Clemens become interested in aviation? “I was 4 or 5 years old. I’ve always loved airplanes. I’ve had a love affair with airplanes since I was a child. I’ve always been with airplanes for one reason or another. I’ve owned 30 or 40 of them.”

What was the scariest thing that ever happened to Clemens while he was in the air? “I lost four engines at different times in twin-engine planes — that gets your attention. But in each case I brought the plane home with one engine flying and landed safely.”

How tough was it to get a pilot’s license when he first started flying? “It wasn’t so bad years ago. I soloed in six-and-one-half hours. You didn’t have all the traffic to deal with. You could get your license in 40 hours without all of the technical requirements that you have to contend with today.”

What is your biggest dream when it comes to flying? “Just what I’m doing, teaching kids how to fly small airplanes. It’s rewarding. Each time you leave the ground it’s exciting.”

What are Clemens’ secrets for staying relaxed when he’s in the cockpit? “It’s always relaxing just to fly. Icy weather may get tense but that’s part of it.”

What are his plans for the future? “I’d like to retire in about four years. Otherwise, it’s been a wonderful life.”

Clemens can be reached by calling 304-573-3438 or 304-253-1632.

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