Sisters student earns his wings

 

Last updated 4/23/2024 at 9:38am

Photo provided

Timber Bionda in the air.

On a chilly Friday morning earlier this month, an FAA examiner grilled Timber Bionda. Four hours and one flight later, he had earned his pilot's license.

Then he had to get ready for school.

The 17-year-old is exceptional, to say the least. Those in his circle describe him differently:

"Amazing. The coolest kid."

"Very dedicated. Very methodical."

"A natural in the air."

Timber grew up in France. At age 11, he and his French father, American mother, and little brother set sail and road-tripped on a five-year, worldwide odyssey. A French speaker, Timber did not know much English. In his free time, he built model planes.

"Since I was little, I have loved airplanes and always liked aviation. I started with remote-controlled planes, then I said, 'Why not build a real airplane and become a pilot?'" said Timber. "We were homeschooled for five years, and me and my brother were starting to get into aviation at about the time where we should settle in the U.S. to get back into a school system."

The family made a spreadsheet of 150 small cities that met their criteria: mountains, skiing, good climate, close enough to a large city. They visited 10 of them. Sisters was their last stop.

"We pretty much thought that Sisters was going to be it because of the flight program here," said Amy Bionda, Timber's mom. "It surpasses our wildest dreams. The school is absolutely amazing. All the opportunities are unbelievable."

Timber enrolled as a junior in Sisters High School and joined its aviation program. It has a "ground school" - a state-certified Career and Technical Education Program that leads students to an industry-recognized credential, such as a pilot license.

"Weather, cross-country flight planning, federal aviation regulations - everything the FAA wants students to know in order to pass the flying test," said Sheryl Yeager, a certified flight instructor who runs the SHS aviation program.

It was nothing Timber couldn't handle.

"He's the most self-motivated kid I've ever taught," Yeager said. "His maturity, no-nonsense focus on the important things, and level of perfectionism... I've never seen anything like it," Yeager said.

The program is intense.

"The written exam took six months of hard study, and you have to pass to continue your training, then pass your final checkride," Timber said.

Timber aced his exam.

"He had the highest score of any kid," Yeager recalled.

He also started an RC plane club, joined the IEE program, and played varsity tennis. The SHS flight school, Outlaw Aviation, folded within weeks of Timber's arrival. But when one cockpit door closes, another one opens.

"I met Timber a little over a year ago," said Joel Haynes, treasurer of Bend Chapter 1345 of the Experimental Aircraft Association. "He impressed me as a driven young man who knew what he wanted to do and was focusing on that. After I got to know him a little bit, I talked with Amy and I suggested that maybe Timber could go flying with me in my airplane, which is an experimental, home-built aircraft. Once we had the opportunity, he spent about an hour in the air and was beside himself with enthusiasm. He was pretty much a natural in the air."

Becoming a pilot takes time and money: at least 40 hours of flying at a flight school. Most candidates complete 50 hours. At $200 per hour, that's $10,000. Timber was also applying to colleges at the time. A four-year university degree requires a five-figure investment - per year.

EAA Chapter 1345 wrote letters of recommendation for Timber's college applications and encouraged him to pursue their Ray's Aviation Scholarship, which provides up to $11,000 to help young flyers cover flight training expenses.

"Learning to fly is not easy. It takes a major commitment, and the washout rate is pretty significant. We weed out those we don't think have the wherewithal, regarding ambition and abilities," Haynes said. "When we awarded the scholarship to Timber last year, it was a unanimous decision."

Timewise, flight opportunities don't open until spring and can close before fall.

"In Central Oregon, if you don't complete your training by October, the weather can get really nasty really quickly," said EAA Chapter Secretary Jeff Stolasz, who coordinates the Ray's Scholarship.

With flight school Bend Aircraft, Timber logged around 40 hours in 2023 and another 50 hours this year before taking his oral test and final checkride:

"Two hours of ground questions, where you're answering live," said Timber. "You prepare a flight plan with a map, say where you're going to fly, look at the weather, and the altitude you're going to fly, and everything related to your flight plan and being a pilot. You prepare for, 'Why did you choose this path? If you have an emergency here, what do you do?' If you pass that, you can start the flying part, which is also two hours. You have to pass every procedure - slow flight, stiff turns, staying within an airspeed margin, and doing the correct maneuvers and procedures."

All Amy could do was watch.

"He says that when he's under pressure, he works even better, and that reassures me," she said. "So, if something were to go wrong with the engine, he's even more efficient."

Timber said he gained confidence throughout his checkride, which lowered his stress level.

"At my last landing, we touched the ground, and the instructor said, 'So what's it feel like to be a pilot now?' At that point, I knew I passed everything," Timber said. "It was a big relief - just so much work, so much dedication, a year-and-a-half of fully intense training."

Timber plans to fly his mother and brother over the Three Sisters to see the mountains from the air, then take off for college. He's been accepted into the aeronautical program at Purdue, where he will major in aerospace engineering.

"My dream will be to design and build airplanes for a living and fly them for fun," Timber said.

Next year, he hopes to find a group of students with which he can buy, build, and fly their own plane, then pursue an internship with an aerospace company in Colorado. First, Timber wants to thank the EAA by helping with its Young Eagles program, where pilots give kids free plane rides.

"Several times a year, we give rides to young, enthusiastic people. Some just enjoy the ride, some will become pilots, and many become applicants for our Ray's Scholarship program," said EAA Chapter President Chris Wallace.

The next Young Eagles event will take place June 1 at the Bend Airport.

"There's a pretty significant interest when we advertise for our Young Eagles event. There's typically no space if you show up the day of, without a slot," Stolasz explained.

Interested 8- to 16-year-olds can look to sign up at https://chapters.eaa.org/eaa1345 or the High Desert Flyers EAA Chapter 1345 Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/HighDesertFlyers.

Looking back, proud mom Amy is all smiles.

"I never would have dreamed that we'd be here, having integrated into the American system as he has," she said. "One thing after another that just blows my mind."

Timber says earning his college acceptance and his wings were totally worth the dedication, time, and resources.

"I'm 17. I'm a pilot now. I can take my friends up," he said. "I definitely want to take quite a few people who helped me during my high school journey, as a way to thank them - take a joyride."

Then Timber will attempt to earn one more transportation certification: his driver's license.

 

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