Wilkins gets back into flying, aces pilot exam

July 8, 2003

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PLATTEVILLE - University of Wisconsin-Platteville employee Gary Wilkins likes flying high. And earlier this summer, this 60-year-old ace of the skies also scored an ace on the ground.

Wilkins is getting back on track to finally earn his pilot license after starting the training more than 20 years ago. He needs to complete a few more requirements to earn his pilot license, but is well on his way after earning a perfect score on the Private Pilot's Knowledge Exam June 20.

"I just challenged myself," Wilkins said. "I want to know everything there is to know about flying. I want to know every rule and regulation, everything about aircraft and airspace there is to know."

The two and a half hour exam measures a potential pilot's knowledge of Federal Aviation Administration regulations and related flight material. It is required before an individual can take the flight test to obtain a pilot license.

Wilkins took the exam through the University of Dubuque aviation program. Test supervisor Kim Bruggenwirth said more than 100 flight students take the test each year, and only two to three earn a perfect score.

"It's a pretty good feat," his flight instructor Roger Wickman said. "You've got to be really prepared for it to score 100 percent. It's quite an accomplishment."

Especially difficult for Wilkins were four math intensive questions that dealt with mapping flight plans.

"I had to guess on a couple of them. Must've guess right. That's all I can say because they were that tough," Wilkins said.

For 13 years Wilkins has worked in the UWP Maintenance Department. He finds time to log flight training despite running a 300-acre farm on the outskirts of Platteville.

He initially began his flight training more than 20 years ago, and completed his first solo flight in 1980. After the death of his father forced him to take care of family matters and work on the farm, Wilkins never completed all of the work needed to obtain a pilot license. The requirements are much more stringent today than they were in the early 1980s.

"I'd say it's quite a bit tougher than it was," Wilkins said. "Not just anybody can get a pilot license."

The University of Dubuque cooperates with the Platteville Municipal Airport to offer flight instruction at the field. Under the training of Lauren Huffman, Wilkins completed a 12-week ground course that culminated in an exam of its own, and he didn't do so bad on that test either.

"I got a 99 percent on her exam. I missed one question," Wilkins said.

Wilkins has been taking training flights in Cessna airplanes with Wickman since May. Wickman said Wilkins is his only flight student ever who is older than him.

"He's really enthusiastic," Wickman said. "He's got a good base for what he needs to know, which makes it that much easier to teach."

Now all Wilkins needs to do to obtain his pilot license is complete some cross-country flight training and log 10 more hours of flight time in the type of plane he's going to fly.

Wilkins said southwest Wisconsin is a great place to begin aviation training.

"Flying in this particular area is really beautiful. You see the different farms and fields and roads going in different directions," Wilkins said. "And it makes you feel pretty good because you actually have a place to land if you want."

Plus, the cooperation between the Platteville Municipal Airport and the University of Dubuque has made it convenient and affordable for individuals in the region who want to learn how to fly.

"The equipment they are bringing up here is just phenomenal," Wilkins said. "Things are going good out there at the Platteville Airport right now, probably better then they ever have." A fly-in, drive-in breakfast will be hosted at the airport Sunday, July 13.

Though Wilkins is getting ready to retire from UWP, he's not going to stop flying any time soon.

"I've kind of hung around airports all my life," Wilkins said. "I don't fish or hunt, so when I retire I just want to do a little flying."

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