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Local woman feeds soul, teaches her love to aspiring pilots

There’s no feeling like flying, especially for Dawn Zurcher.

Her yellow and black light-sport aircraft waits outside its hangar and undergoes checks and preparations before it takes flight. Zurcher makes her way around the plane, making sure everything is moving and working the way it’s supposed to.

Once the exterior passes Zurcher’s test, she moves to the interior and follows a list of procedures to ensure her safety, as well as that of her passengers.

On air-traffic control’s command, Zurcher begins to taxi her plane toward the runway at Sierra Vista Municipal Airport.

Near the runway, while waiting for her turn to take to the air, Zurcher performs her final checks and adjustments. She turns one of the ignition switches off, and the engine roars. She flips the second ignition switch, and once again the engine sounds.

Zurcher said she does this in order to check that the two different spark plugs are working properly. The certified flight instructor makes her way to the runway with air-traffic control’s blessing.

She’s in the air by the count of five.

“The feeling is just, ‘Wow,’” Zurcher said. “It’s just a miracle.”

Zurcher grew up in New River, an unincorporated community 45 minutes north of Phoenix. The small community didn’t have much to do, Zurcher said. But when she would look up at the sky and see planes fly overhead, she was mesmerized.

“I actually wanted to be a fighter pilot,” Zurcher said. “But that was unheard of in my day.”

So instead of becoming a pilot, she became a firefighter.

“It just fell into my lap,” Zurcher said. “My community was looking for volunteer firefighters, so I joined.”

Zurcher worked as a firefighter for 20 years, enjoying that each day was different. She recalled that some days consisted of retrieving keys from inside cars, while others were spent putting out fires — which ranged in size and severity.

In 1994, she began to fly ultralight aviations, which are one- or two-seated fixed aircrafts. During one of her ultralight rides, she had a crash that resulted in a back injury. But that didn’t stop her.

“I asked myself what am I passionate about,” she said. “I said, ‘I'm passionate about flying,’ so why not make a career out of it.”

In 2005, she completed all the necessary steps to become a certified flight instructor. Before moving to Sierra Vista in June, she had a business in Avra Valley where she taught people how to fly.

Zurcher decided to bring her business, AZ Dawn Sport Flying, with her when she moved to the area just over a month ago.

A light-sport aircraft has a maximum takeoff weight of 1,320 pounds, a maximum airspeed of 138 mph, and a max seating of two people. The aircraft has fixed landing gear and a fixed or ground-adjustable propeller if powered.

Zurcher takes beginners and novices on as clients. She uses her plane to teach them or knock the rust off former fliers.

“Having fun is a requirement,” she said. “Their introductory flight is in the air.”

She said many of her students have often read books and taught themselves the basic knowledge, but she is willing to teach the groundwork to beginners. Zurcher then moves to teaching how to taxi, since it’s done with the feet.

“They are getting used to the itty-bitty elements,” she said.

Once in the air, she watches to make sure her student doesn’t become motion-sick or overwhelmed. Zurcher likes to make sure her clients are having fun.

Cliff Bennett, a close friend to Zurcher, first met in New River, where they worked together. They both vowed to learn to fly because of their passion for it. When Bennett came to visit, he asked Zurcher to take him flying because he wanted to “knock off some rust.”

“I found out she’s a very good pilot, conscientious, and good teacher,” Bennett said. “She was really patient with me. She keeps it fun.”

“Her whole way of teaching is to put you at ease and makes sure you're comfortable.”

For more information, visit http://azdawnsportflying.com/ or call 520-730-4387.


Sport Pilot Requirements (FAR/AIM 2018 FAA):

Must be 17 years old. Younger people can fly, but cannot be certified until they turn 17.

Read, speak and understand English

Complete a minimum of 20 hours of flight instruction/solo

Have a valid U.S. driver's license

Pass a knowledge test (not from Zurcher)

Pass a practical test (can be done by Zurcher)

Have fun (a requirement for Zurcher)

*** Note: There is some ground school, but mostly self-study.


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