Palmer flight school offers range of aviation opportunities
Artic Wikle and Ken More are friends first and business partners second.
The pair operates Artic’s Air Academy, a full service flight instruction service out of Palmer.
Artic’s Air offers nearly every type of flight instruction imaginable. Wikle and the other five instructors on the academy staff have trained almost 250 pilots looking for a basic private license or specialty float, ski or amphibious certification.
“We can take you from zero hours to commercial,” More said.
Opened early in 2009 with “out of pocket” funds, More said the business has survived through a turbulent economy because of cost-minded business decisions and Wikle’s reputation.
“Art did a lot of research and there really wasn’t any instruction-based operation on (Palmer Municipal Airport). We didn’t want a gazillion dollar debt service so we didn’t improve underdeveloped property on the airport,” More said. “We leased a little hangar space. A lot of what’s made us successful is (Wikle’s) standing in the aviation community.”
Between instructing for Artic’s Air and flying commercially for Northern Air Cargo, Wikle said he logs roughly 800 flight hours every year professionally. All told, he estimates his total cockpit time at nearly 16,000 hours.
More said several of the pilots the flight school has trained already flew commercially but wanted to further their fight education. Wikle’s crossover experience makes Artic’s Air the optimal place for that, he said.
“You get guys that are (Boeing 777) pilots or 747 pilots that buy a little Super Cub and are smart enough to come to us for training because (of) the difference between pushing buttons at 36,000 feet as opposed to the real flying that’s required in small aircraft,” More said.
Growing up in South Dakota, Wikle’s father made his living as a crop duster in Piper Super Cubs. His father’s profession is what spurred his interest in aviation, Wikle said. Flying Super Cubs Outside translated into Wikle’s specialty, as he called it, of training for mountain and bush flying.
“(Wikle) and my chief flight instructor are two of the top tail instructors in the state when it comes to off-airport operations,” More said.
More added that Knik Glacier being “next door” offers a perfect training ground for Wikle’s expert instruction.
Teaching pilots advanced short-field techniques is something Wikle said scares off other instructors because of the risk involved. However, he feels that he has the experience and has developed a training program that emphasizes safety over everything else. It allows his pilots to be prepared for additional situations than they would be otherwise when they get out on there own, he said.
“We’ve been incident free, going into our fifth year now,” Wikle said.
Part of the advanced instruction that Wilke offers is what’s called spin training.
“Spin training is where you get the airplane into a spin. It’s coming out of the air and essentially out of control, and what I do is I teach (students) how much control you do have in a spin,” Wikle said.
The key to that type of exercise is making sure the student thinks through what is happening as the plane begins to enter a spin. It gives the student the ability to recognize the symptoms of a spin and hopefully correct the airplane, he said. Wikle calls himself the “ninja behind the ninja.”
He said his goal is to get his students to look at flying as an art form instead of a skill and to take pride in what they’re doing.
Safety and preparedness are the hallmarks of the operation More stressed.
Wikle said he and his other instructors save the excitement for after-hours flying. Oftentimes they will go back to an area where they have been training off-airport techniques and “really rock and roll.”
“We have a lot of fun,” Wikle said.
In June, Artic’s Air Academy moved off of Palmer Municipal Airport grounds to a former gas station located about a mile south of the airport. The move provided the flight instruction business an opportunity to expand its aviation services.
“We have turned this self-serve convenience gas station into 24-hour aviation and number one heating fuel sales,” More said.
The fuel service began in mid-September. More and Wikle plan on having on-airport, or over-the-wing service, available starting next month.
Another goal of Artic’s Air’s is to get further involved in the community. In January, when Palmer High School added an aviation program, More and Wikle had that opportunity and took full advantage.
Zolea Vey, a private pilot and former air traffic controller, was hired to teach the program.
“They were incredibly generous with their business and also their time,” Vey said. “I know that some of my students would call over there to ask technical questions which frankly I wasn’t prepared to answer. Those two were just Johnny-on-the-spot and I can’t thank them enough; they were fantastic.”
Not only did they speak to classes, but Vey said More and Wikle also offered discounted instruction rates to students who wanted to learn to fly, and even walked classes through aviation exercises at Palmer’s airport.
More said he and Wikle enjoyed the opportunity to work with the students and help them simulate the full flying experience, from pre-flight preparation through the entire flight, on the ground, of course.
“We were able to show the kids that there’s more to aviation than being a pilot. There’s more jobs in the field than they might realize.”