Up in the air

Published 9:42 am Tuesday, January 24, 2012

At the Albert Lea Municipal Airport, Darren Schone stands next to the plane in which he asked his wife to marry him. -- Brandi Hagen/Albert Lea Tribune

Ever since his father, Gary, took him to flying lessons as a young boy in Amery, Wis., several of Darren Schone’s most treasured memories involve aviation.

One memory invokes Schone’s grandpa.

“My dad thought he was a pilot because he spent so much time at the airport. He didn’t know how to read my grandpa’s log book, so when I learned how, I read it,” Schone said. “He only had three hours logged. He spent most of his time watching planes.”

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Schone has been a certified flight instructor for the last seven years. He mostly flies four-passenger airplanes. After his trainees finish the oral and practical portions of the flight course, he takes them up in the air to practice performing maneuvers.

A line his instructor told his mom and one he uses now when he trains is, ““Don’t worry mom, we haven’t left anyone up there yet. He has to come down one way or another.”

Schone said he would much rather teach someone to fly a plane than drive a car.

“A close call is a couple hundred feet, so there is more room for error,” Schone said. “Down here, the whole world is a landing strip.”

Schone was 16 when he flew a plane solo for the first time.

“My mom, Marge, nearly passed out when she heard I flew by myself,” Schone said.

He said he has to thank his parents for “the First National Bank of Mom and Dad. I wouldn’t have made it without that.”

The price of school to be a flight instructor is steep, and Schone says now he “works for peanuts.”

It isn’t a high-paying job like air traffic control, but he said he tried that and didn’t like it as much as actually flying planes.

One of the people Schone has taught was his wife of four years, Sydney.

“She loves it,” Schone said. “She’s done some pretty crazy manuevers with me. Spins and things like that.”

Schone proposed to Sydney while they were up in a plane.

“I had to,” he said. “I was a pilot.”

Sydney is very encouraging of Schone’s love of aviation.

“She wants me to buy an airplane in the worst way,” Schone said.

The closest he has come to owning a plane is owning a life-size wood propeller that hangs on a wall in their home.

It was a gift from Sydney’s dad, Mark, who died on Feb. 28, 2006.

While he was sick, Mark bought the propeller as a gift to Schone but never had the chance to give it to him. Schone discovered the propeller while cleaning out Mark’s closet.

“My birthday is March 15,” Schone said. “That was the gift that he gave me after he passed away. That thing is really special to me.”

He reminisced to the time he took Mark and his wife, Leah, flying.

“Leah was nervous, it was her first time in a small airplane,” Schone said. “Mark, cripes he probably didn’t want to buckle up.”

Schone now waits for nice weather to come around so he and Sydney can take their 14 month old, Noah flying.

“The little kids at day care taught him to say ‘dada’ when an airplane goes over,” Schone said. “He’ll hear an airplane in the house, stop and point at the window and say ‘dada’. That’s the only word he can say.”

Schone said he one time saw Noah while he was flying.

“He was sitting outside the day care. He was just a little red blob.”


Darren Schone

Age: 27
Address: 71767 154 St., Albert Lea
Livelihood: pilot, flying instructor and taking care of his son
Family: wife, Sydney; son, Noah, 14 months
Interesting fact: As a Wisconsin native, Darren quietly roots for the Green Bay Packers while living in Minnesota.