Local student obtained helicopter license at 17

Cascades Academy senior enjoys art and flying

By Megan Kehoe / The Bulletin

After 17-year-old Carson Fraley got his license this summer, he took a trip to Portland and stopped at Voodoo Doughnut for a celebratory treat.

But Carson didn’t drive there.

Instead, he flew.

“It was probably the most expensive doughnut trip ever,” Carson, a senior at Cascades Academy of Central Oregon, said.

It’s quite likely that Carson is the youngest helicopter pilot in Bend. Carson has been flying since the age of 14 and has logged over 150 hours of airtime, and 300 hours of ground time. In July, he passed his private helicopter pilot certification test, meaning he can fly on his own and with passengers.

Carson was inspired to learn to fly by both of his grandfathers, who were pilots in the Korean War, along with his dad, who is a pilot and runs Leading Edge Aviation. Growing up, Carson often accompanied his dad on flights and caught the flying bug early.

“It’s hard to explain, because people who don’t do it, don’t get it,” Carson said. “But when you’re alone up there, it’s freeing. You don’t have anything you have to think about but flying. It’s relaxing.”

But it wasn’t always that way for Carson. When he first took over the controls on a flight at the young age of 14, he was terrified.

“We were flying over Pilot Butte, and I was pretty sure that I was going to crash it,” Carson said. “But I eased into it and I got a hold.”

After flying every day after school for several years, Carson felt ready to take his private helicopter certification test this past summer.

“It does take a lot of dedication to get it (helicopter certification),” said Jordan Kuhnmuench, Carson’s flight instructor. “You have to be dedicated and really want it, because it’s not based on common knowledge. If you slack off and don’t study, you’re not going to get it.”

Carson passed, and though he hasn’t had much time to take any big trips outside of going to Portland, he wants to take a trip to the coast soon.

Part of the reason Carson hasn’t had much time for trips is because he’s been busy with school. He’s also been studying for his driver’s license, which he only just obtained three weeks ago.

Carson could legally fly before he even knew how to drive, and he said he barely passed his driver’s test.

“I think it’s scarier to drive,” Carson said. “When you fly, you usually can’t hit anything, and you don’t have other drivers to worry about.”

While Carson loves flying, he doesn’t want to become a professional pilot. His interests lie in a completely different direction. Carson loves art and has been painting since he was in elementary school. He’s particularly interested in stencil and graffiti art, and is a counselor at the Young Musicians & Artists camp in Portland during the summer.

“I think I’ll always have flying to fall back on and be able to support myself with it,” Carson said. “But I’ve never wanted to give up on art.”

Carson said he isn’t afraid to be controversial with his art. At the Young Musicians & Artists camp, he completed a painting that contained religious elements that could be interpreted by some as offensive. But Carson said he was using religious imagery to make a statement about the way art schools view religion.

“I was commenting on the fact that Christianity and religion is looked down on in some art schools,” Carson said.

Carson, whose older sister attends art school, plans to follow in her footsteps. He plans to apply to Chapman University’s Dodge College in California, along with the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

Meanwhile, he intends to continue logging more solo hours up in the helicopter for the rest of his senior year.

“I don’t think flying is something I want to do as a career,” Carson said. “But if I end up going into it, it definitely wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

— Reporter; 541-383-0354, mkehoe@bendbulletin.com