NORTH BEND — Late on a Sunday afternoon, Dave Courtney starts the engine of his Cessna 172 and starts down the runway. Seven-year-old Allyson Wells pushes her face up against the window, taking in the scenery below.
Orange light bathes their faces. For an hour or so, grandfather and granddaughter enjoy the freedom of flight.
Retirement liberated Courtney from the daily routine of his career as a truck mechanic for the International Paper Company in Gardiner.
Now the Reedsport man is a volunteer fire captain, an auto mechanic and an aerial photographer. Flight is his passion.
“Had I been in high school and started learning to fly, I wouldn’t be an auto mechanic now. I wouldn’t have my own shop. I’d be an airline pilot,” Courtney says.
Courtney, 65, was a reluctant pilot at first, but his brother-in-law, Karl Edd, persuaded him to learn.
“As soon as I was in the left seat, I was hooked,” Courtney says. “I would take two or three lessons a day. And I started in November of ’78 and I had my license before March of ’79. It was just total immersion.”
Eventually, Courtney managed to combine flying with his other love, photography. He started taking pictures of the scenery below with a little Kodak Brownie. In 2005, he made it a business.
“It was just too much fun to go flying and I figured well, let’s get this to try and pay for itself somehow,” Courtney says.
Courtney’s Aerial Imaging Resources provides low-altitude photographs for real estate agencies, ports and anyone else who wants an aerial view of a piece of property.
“A lot of people don’t really realize the lay of the land unless they can see it from the air,” Courtney says.
How does he take pictures while flying the plane?
“It’s easy,” he says. “An airplane is like a boat. You get it trimmed out so that it’s flying straight and level. It’s not turning. It’s not climbing. It’s not descending. You open up the window and you start taking pictures.”
Allyson lives in Eugene and shares her grandfather’s love of flying. She has her own monogramed pink headset, and the two fly together whenever they can. He hopes she’ll want to be a pilot herself someday.
“I’m trying to plant the seed for Allyson and if it goes, great.”
Reporter Alysha Beck can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 271, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @alyshab012.