Jan. 22, 2022 — “Florence traffic, Piper Archer 57358. I'm on final for runway 3-3.”
So says local pilot Crystal Farnsworth as she flies into the Florence Municipal Airport.
In October, Crystal completed her private pilot’s license after several years of casual effort and a consolidated push in 2021.
“This was the year that I decided to get it done,” she said. “It was a lot of work and literally required not much blood, but a lot of sweat and tears. On Oct. 27, 2021, I completed all my requirements and passed my exams. I'm proud of the accomplishment but really relieved that it's over.”
While Crystal just recently got her license, she had been flying with her husband Captain Larry Farnsworth since he earned his private pilot’s license in July 1977. She helped him pass his written test and he went on to be a pilot with United Airlines. In addition, Crystal’s family has been part of aviation history for more than 100 years, with her grandfather riding a Curtiss-Pusher bi-plane in 1916 at 21 years old. Her mother earned her private pilot’s license in 1979.
“She surprised us by doing it secretly,” Crystal said. “I get it. It's a big deal to earn a pilot's license and I didn't want to talk about it much either until I succeeded in finishing the training and passing all the tests.”
In 2014, the Farnsworths bought a 1974 Piper Cherokee Archer, which they now keep in a hangar at Florence Municipal Airport. This made it easier for Larry and Crystal to fly around the region and to visit friends and family in Washington, California, Utah and beyond. It also got Crystal thinking.
“I decided that in the event we were flying and something happened to Larry — like a heart attack or anything else, heaven forbid — I did not want to sit there without knowing what to do next to try to keep us safe. I did not want to go out in a blaze of glory. So I clearly needed to learn to land the plane,” she said.
Larry, a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI), bought her a logbook, and so began a multi-year process to complete her license.
“Learning to fly is not easy,” Crystal said. “It requires a lot of time, study, and practice. If you're going for an airline job like Larry did, those things become your primary focus. If you're like me, you fit the training in when you can, depending on life activities and commitments, and the weather. Over time, I had more skills than just landing, so I developed the determination to finish the job and get my license.”
Some of those skills included takeoffs and landings, control and maneuverability, cross-country flying, night flying, flight training with an authorized instructor and solo flight. Those all needed to be achieved in at least 40 hours in order to gain her private pilot’s license.
“Okay, first off, virtually nobody earns a private pilot’s license in 40 hours,” Crystal said. “The average is 60 to 70 hours. You might say, ‘40 hours, that's OK, I can do that.’ And maybe there are people who are naturally skilled and catch on really quickly. But for most of us average Joes out there, it's going to take longer than 40 hours.”
The requirements call for 20 hours of instruction with a CFI. Pilots also need 10 takeoffs and landings at night, including three hours of night flight.
“Night Flight starts an hour after sunset, so a lot depends on what time of year you do it,” Crystal said. “I did mine in the early summer, which meant that I had to wait until after the sunset, which meant that it started at 9 p.m. and ended at midnight.”
If she tried to do that night flying in the winter, she would have had to contend with heavier fog and other winter weather conditions.
She added that a cross-country flight is when a plane takes off from one airport and lands at another; so flying from here to Eugene is considered “cross-country.”
Some of the airports Crystal flew to were similar in size to Florence, but she also needed experience at airports with control towers.
Her farthest trip was to Oshkosh, Wis., for “the biggest air show in the world” — the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh held each summer at Wittman Regional Airport and adjacent Pioneer Airport.
“When when you hear a pilot asking if you've been to Oshkosh, they're not just wondering if you've been to Wisconsin; they’re asking about this particular air show that's there every summer,” Crystal said.
For the license, she had to pass a 60-question exam which she took at the airport in Independence, Ore. The test also included a five-hour exam with a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE). Part of this was an oral test in Eugene answering question after question, which took about 2.5 hours.
“Then you go flying,” Crystal said. “My examiner told me that I should treat him just like any other passenger and that he really wanted me to pass. Nevertheless, while he didn’t expect perfection, he did expect competence and safety.”
She walked through all the safety steps of flying with the DPE, and then was assigned to plan a cross-country flight to Vancouver, Wash. Crystal was able to chart two different flight plans.
For her actual test, she performed maneuvers in the skies over Albany and Lebanon, Ore.
“It was all a lot of work, but I did it,” Crystal said. “I passed all my tests on Oct. 27, and then a couple of weeks ago, my license came in the mail. I'm really relieved that it's over. I can't say that it was entirely fun. But, it's an accomplishment and I'm glad I did it.”
Now, Crystal can take over if Larry needs a break while flying or fly solo if she wishes. Most of their trips are to see family, so they tend to fly together.
While flying on their own doesn’t save money — the Farnsworths still pay for gas and vehicle maintenance — it does save them time.
“There's a matter of convenience,” Crystal said. “We can go whenever we want to. Of course, it's based on the weather, but with a certain amount of planning, we can just go.”
That didn’t change much even with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You're not going through a terminal; you're going to your hangar and you're getting out of your airplane,” Crystal said. “It's like jumping in your car. You can pretty much go where you want. If you're going to go into a place that has restrictions, you need to take that into account, of course.”
There are places she recommends just based on their airports, and enjoys the community of pilots she has met on her travels. Many airports have courtesy vehicles for pilots and even have airport cafes, which Crystal hopes can happen for Florence at some point in the future.
“You go over to our airport, all the pilots over there know each other,” she said.
With this license, Crystal can feel confident in the skies in the Piper Archer, with or without Larry at her side (though she prefers flying with him).
“You know, the only plane I’m probably ever going to fly is this one,” she said.