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Getting her wings to fly

PIPPI MAYFIELD/TRIBUNE New Pilot Heather Sorum got interested in aviation last year when she brought her daughter to the Young Eagles program at the Detroit Lakes Airport. Heather enjoyed the experience so much she bought herself a 1977 Grumman Lynx airplane and hopes to have her license by the end of the summer. 1 / 2
BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE The public will have a chance to chat with pilots and aviation enthusiasts at the fly-in on Saturday. 2 / 2

Last year, Heather Sorum took her daughter to the Young Eagles flight program, hoping to expose her to new interests like aviation. Instead, it was Sorum that took interest and is working to pilot her own plane.

“I got to go on two flights and was smiling ear to ear,” she said Monday evening in her newest home away from home, the Detroit Lakes/Becker County Airport.

The pilots at the Young Eagles program told her to watch for a free class the Experimental Aviation Association was putting on that fall through community education.

When it came time, Sorum whole-heartedly signed up and participated in the class. She was hooked.

There were 28 students ranging in age from high school to 60. They met weekly and learned flying 101. EAA members Ted Kiebke and Dennis Jacobs taught the class.

“Those two fellas lit the fire under me and I’ve been having a blast since,” Sorum said.

With her introduction to aviation — something she said she never had a passion for in the past — she started taking lessons to become a pilot and works closely with Kiebke to get her flying time under her belt.

Certified flight instructors Don Bradford and Bob Lund are working with her also.

“It’s thrilling and at the same time, relaxing,” she said of the piloting experience. “I have been able to do these things very quickly.”

After getting over the initial nerves, Sorum said she has trust and confidence in her teachers and herself.

“I’d be more worried of driving in Minneapolis than flying,” she said, adding that getting her license will help cut down on travel time for trips, including the four-hour drive to her parents’ house in North Dakota or to her sister’s home in Detroit, Mich.

She started flying in July with Kiebke, and said she enjoys seeing the world from a different perspective – a much higher one.

“Since I’m a nature buff, I’m looking and seeing,” she said of her favorite part of flying, adding that it’s “amazing” to see the lakes from the sky and realize how big they are.

So with the passion burning in her to get her pilot’s license, she needed a plane to pilot.

“As I kept flying, I knew I was all in – so I went shopping,” she said with a laugh.

She and Kiebke searched for the perfect plane for her to purchase, finally finding one in Pittsburg, Penn. After getting a loan for her new hobby, Sorum and Kiebke studied the log books and pictures of the plane and decided it would be a good fit for her.

“We went out on a commercial flight and flew the plane all the way home,” she said.

She is now the proud owner of a 1977 Grumman Lynx airplane. Once they got it back to Detroit Lakes, Kiebke and Sorum worked to custom build the plane to fit Sorum’s small frame. The seat had to be moved forward and up, and new pedals had to be built so she could reach them. She got to fly solo in her plane this spring for the first time.

Sorum still has to take her cross country flight — which she plans to do in the next week or so — some night flights and a flight to Fargo to work with air traffic control. She hopes to test and be fully certified as a pilot by the end of the summer.

With all of Sorum’s time spent at the airport and building new relationships with EAA members, she has become the local chapter’s secretary as well.

“They’ve done so much for me. They’ve helped me so much, this is my way of giving back to the EAA,” she said.

Sorum and the other EAA pilots from the local chapter are hoping to spark an interest in aviation with the Fly-In on Saturday.

A part of the Water Carnival event line-up, the fly-in usually sees hundreds of planes, pilots and the public. It is Saturday from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Detroit Lakes Airport, and there will be homebuilt, experimental, light sport and ultralight aircraft on display.

There will also be informational booths, a vintage car show and a pancake breakfast served by the Audubon Fire Department. Pancakes are $6 for ages 13 and up, $5 for ages 6-12 and ages 5 and under are free.

Sorum will have her plane in display, and will be more than eager to share her passion for flying with those attending the event.

She is one of only 6 percent of female pilots in the nation. She’s hoping to up that percentage through events like Saturday’s fly-in.

While Sorum said she’s happy with her job as a physical therapist, she’s not ruling out aviation as part of her future career either.

“At age 41, anything is possible,” she said. “I love what I do as a physical therapist, but I’m loving this, too.”

She said that for so long her life was all about work and her two children. Now, her son is in college, her daughter is in eighth grade, and Sorum has decided it is time to do something for herself.

“It’s been a fun journey,” she said. “It’s a challenge, but I like that.”