It was three years ago that Josh Cowen’s career dreams officially took flight.
“My dad flew planes and helicopters when I was younger and I’ve always had an interest in that,” Cowen said earlier this week.
“And then, one day about three years ago, I remember some TV show was on, some show about flying planes and I was like ‘I’m going to be a pilot’. I decided right then and there.”
Cowen, at the time, was just nicely into his three-years-plus role as a Red Deer Rebels forward, a stint that ended in January when the 20-year-old was officially released as a player but retained as a Rebels assistant coach.
Once he was let loose as a player due to the WHL’s three-per-team overage rule and his history of concussions, Cowen had more time on his hands and his aviation plans were back on track.
“The notion of getting a pilot’s license, well I just kind of thought it was an interesting (career path). Back when I first entertained the idea, it was kind of a distant dream of mine,” he said.
“Through the past three years I’ve been researching it and looking at different schools and what the costs are and how I’d do it. There were other things to consider, like what your life would be like if you get into aviation.
“I just kind of got more and more interested in it and once I got released from the Rebels, Wally (Rebels GM/head coach Jesse Wallin) told me I had the opportunity to go to school if wanted to, that I could do something in the morning and take advantage of my WHL (education scholarship money).”
And so it came to be that Cowen enrolled at the Sky Wings Aviation Academy at Red Deer Regional Airport and is now well on his way to earning his private pilot license.
Cowen takes to the skies with instructor Colten Abel of Sky Wings in a single-engine Cessna for two one-hour flights Monday to Friday.
“I’ve probably flown about 12 hours so far and I just wrote the PSTAR exam so I can get my student pilot permit and can fly solo,” he said. “You need over 90 per cent and I passed the exam.”
Cowen planned to fly solo at some point this week or next week at the latest.
“That will be a cool experience,” he acknowledged. “Right now I’m flying with the instructor and I have full control of the plane the whole time. He’s there to make sure I don’t mess up.”
A minimum of 40 hours of air navigation is required in order to take the written test towards acquiring a private licence.
“Considering you can fly all over North America (with a private licence) with passengers, that might not sound like a lot of hours,” said Cowen. “But I think your confidence builds a lot every time you go in the air. Right now I don’t feel like I could fly solo, but after a couple of flights I think I will.”
Cowen guesses that he’ll fly 45 to 50 hours before he attempts to get his private licence.
“Then again, it might only be 40 hours. It all depends on when I feel comfortable enough to write my test,” he said. “Really, it’s up to the individual.”
The Salmon Arm, B.C., native is hoping that the end result of his Sky Wings instruction and any further training he takes will allow him to become a commercial pilot.
“That’s my goal. I have a long road ahead of me and I understand that,” he said.
“I know that there’s a lot of sacrifice involved with it, but that’s the dream right now. It’s almost like going to an NHL camp.”
To reach the level required to gain a commercial licence, Cowen will have to complete a two-year program, either at Sky Wings or another aviation academy.
“I’d like to take the course in B.C., but this program at Sky Wings is top notch,” he said. “The instructors are all good and treat you really well. I know them personally now so I might very well end up staying here.”
Ultimately, Cowen sees himself behind the controls of a jetliner.
“Eventually, I’d like to be flying the big jets, but I could start off as a bush pilot,” he said. “That would be right up my alley.”