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Marion seniors pastime is flying

Staff writer

For Marion seniors Skip Sieger and Don Hodson, flying is a brotherhood, and a means of relaxation.

“It doesn’t really matter if you’re big for heights,” Hodson said. “It takes a lot of steady concentration to get your pilot’s license. Once you do it, you have to be on your game enough that it takes your mind off everything else.”

Sieger got his private license in ’64 and a commercial license in ’70, but he took a break from flying for 22 years. He came back to it in 1997. When he picked it up again, there was also a local aviation club with 50 members, Sieger said.

“Of course, quite a few of them were non-pilots, just people interested in aviation,” he said. “We encouraged them as part of the organization, but if you didn’t have access to an airplane, you kind of lost interest.”

While involvement in the group has decreased, a few of the friends still get together to fly.

For the 65-year-old Hodson, one of the best trips is getting a fly-in breakfast from Ponca City, Oklahoma, the first Saturday of every month.

“There’s a camaraderie you have between guys that you don’t have in any other group, just because of what goes into learning it and maintaining your license,” Hodson said.

“There are a lot of things people don’t think about,” he said. “Most people who have been pilots a long time are very astute about weather and finding out where to predict it online.”

Sieger got his private license at Wichita Municipal Airport, now Eisenhower, and had access to relatively new planes, like the ’64 Cessna 170. When he came back to flying, it was again in a ’64 Cessna 170.

“I wasn’t flying the same class of airplanes, I was flying exactly the same plane,” he said.

The 75-year-old cut his fly time to 2-3 hours per month, but going in his 1967 Piper Cherokee 140 provides the same satisfaction from over the years, Sieger said.

“I’ve always felt like it was an accomplishment for me,” he said. “I can only fly 30 hours a year, but I enjoy that I can still make a good landing and put the plane down where I want it.”

Instead of becoming more difficult with age, flying becomes easier because it’s more of a routine, Hodson said.

“Once you’ve been flying a while, the physical part is so ingrained in your muscle memory,” he said. “It’s like playing piano, once it’s in your head, it’s there.”

According to Hodson, advancements in technology have made the process easier over the years.

“It’s actually gotten easier,” he said. “With everything being GPS, it has really revolutionized navigation. It used to be a lot of paper charts and plotting lines.”

Seiger’s plane runs all data through his iPad, including updates for air traffic, engine performance, and weather conditions.

“That one device gives me everything the airlines and super-sophisticated aircraft have had for years,” he said. “Only, when they started putting their stuff in, it was hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

An advantage to being in Marion is that there aren’t as many requirements as larger cities, Seiger said.

“It’s nice to be able to fly out of a smaller airport,” he said. “You can get your plane out and be in the air in 10 minutes.”

Hodson works a few days per month schedule as a semi-retired doctor, but it limits his availability for flying. He keeps at it, however, because it helps him finance his aviation.

“It’s one of the main reasons I’m working as much as I am, to pay expenses and airplane gas,” he said.

On one trip, Hodson flew a sick baby on oxygen and her mother from Minnesota back to Manhattan. What would have been a 10-hour car-ride, he was able to complete in less than three, Hodson said.

“You don’t have to follow roads when you’re in the air,” he said. “As the crow flies is a lot shorter.”

Last modified Feb. 20, 2019

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