For Jill Van Deel, trips to the airport with her father stoked her lifelong passion for airplanes.
“My dad flew,” she says. “I grew up flying.”
Van Deel is one of those lucky people who are able to turn their passion into a career.
A commercially rated pilot and certified flight instructor, she was chief pilot for Altitudes Flight Training. She also flew corporate and charter flights out of several Denver airports.
“I flew Goose Gossage. And John Denver’s hangar was next to mine. I became friends with his Learjet mechanics and pilot, so they got me a backstage pass and I met him.”
Being a huge fan of Denver, she was thrilled when he autographed an album and CD for her. Though she never piloted the singer, she did once fly in his plane, though this was after Denver’s death in 1997.
Her job as manager of Buena Vista’s Central Colorado Regional Airport has kept her busy for 5 years.
“There’s CDOT and FAA requirements to stay in compliance with, aircraft and hangar management, marketing, grant writing, airport operations, customer relations and planning for airport growth.”
Another important aspect of her job is overseeing high-altitude training and testing of personnel and equipment, both in conjunction with High-Altitude Training Site and national and international aircraft manufacturers of our country’s military helicopters.
Van Deel also organized a fly-in in October 2013, “to show BV their airport.” There were kids’ activities, live music, breakfast and lunch, a P-51 Mustang, Flight-for-Life, workshops taught by Fantasy of Flight, simulators, local planes and the BV Car Club.
The Young Eagles program gave first flights to kids between 9 and 16.
“We had about 300 people attend. We didn’t have time to do one this year, but we’re planning another in 2015. We’d like to make it an annual event.”
Not surprisingly, Van Deel owns her own plane, a Glasair I. “It’s sporty. It can do 200 miles an hour. It’s a lot of fun.”
Van Deel warns about high altitude flying, though. “All flying is risky, and mountain flying is a compounded risk. Aircraft performance is reduced due to the altitude.
“It’s pretty tricky to navigate mountains. You need to have good weather briefings and to understand how the air flows over the mountains.”
Well-acquainted with mountain flying, when the Van Deels moved to BV in 2005, she opened a small flight school that she ran successfully for about 5 years.
Along with airplanes, animals are a passion for Van Deel.
“I’ve had such a love for animals all my life – all kinds. I even take spiders outside.”
She’s rescued many animals over the years, beginning in childhood.
While most have been cats and dogs, there have also been birds and horses, and even fish that aren’t being well taken care of by retail stores.
“Sometimes I have many bowls on the counter,” she says with a smile.
Currently, Van Deel’s household consists of herself, husband Roger, owner of Van Deel Homes, son Nathan, three dogs, four horses, and three barn cats. An elderly fourth dog passed away in his sleep in June.
Nathan has inherited his mother’s love of horses.
He’s now competing in his third rodeo season with the Colorado Jr. Association in calf roping, team roping, and poles. He also plays the guitar and mandolin with The Mighty Pickin’ Pickles.
Just as Van Deel has followed her passions, she’s happy to see the next generation do the same.