The Flathead Valley is breathtaking to most who view it and for some, even therapeutic when viewed from a plane, as is the belief of Todd Ware who is starting Air Therapy Aviation.

“The therapeutic effects of flying are obvious from the moment you take off,” Ware said. “The fresh air, beauty and the thrill of flight are unforgettable. One recent passengers described their flight as a spiritual experience.”

The special light sport aircraft Ware will use with Air Therapy Aviation is made by Apollo Aircraft and is called a Monsoon. Ware purchased his own Monsoon, which he nicknamed Libra, in January having first experienced flight in a similar aircraft 10 years ago.

“My first reaction was, this is like heaven on earth,” Ware said. “It was so thrilling and I was just excited for the rest of the day.”

Two year’s later Ware’s cousin got a special light sport aircraft license and has operated his business, Big Sky Kauai in Hawaii, taking tourists on flights in Monsoons.

Ware, who first started flying as a young child sitting on his dad’s lap in their Cessna airplane, didn’t get involved with the light aircraft again until last year.

“I had a tough mid-life crisis that just wasn’t going away,” Ware said. “Learning to fly again in these light-sport trikes became a mode of therapy. Aviation sharpens the mind and feeds the soul.”

Ware received his sport pilot license in January while living in Florida. He spent months flying up and down the golf coast. Ware has spent the past six summers in the Bigfork area, though he goes somewhere warm each winter. When he returned to Bigfork from Florida, he brought his plane with him.

“Since I got my license, I have logged more flying hours than the average U.S. pilot logs in two-and-a-half years,” Ware said.

Now he is working on his certified flight instructor license and is just a little less than 35 hours short of obtaining it. In mid-September he will open Air Therapy Aviation, which he will give flying lessons and discovery flights out of next summer. Rates for lessons will run at about $150 and discovery flights will cost about half that much.

Ware is looking forward to sharing his love for these small aircrafts, which he said he finds more enjoyable than the time he has spent flying airplanes.

“There are many reasons why I like the Monsoon better,” Ware said. “It’s more fun to fly. You get a more pure sense of flight. It’s the closest thing to being a bird you can get. You smell the fields and you feel the air.”

It is that raw experience that has inspired Ware to reach out to U.S. military veterans who were deployed overseas. Ware is offering to take them on free rides in the Monsoon.

“I have to fulfill my hours to become a CFI and I figured since I was flying I might as well take someone up that could use it,” Ware said. “I figured they could use the therapy like I had needed it.”

Ware recently took Lakeside’s Brandon Griffith, a veteran of the Iraq war, on a flight and he said he saw the benefit.

“It was a great activity to release the pent-up adrenaline,” Griffith said. “Vets need more things like this to relax us in healthy ways. It gives us something to look forward to.”

For Ware, who said the air therapy has worked wonders for him, said there are many reasons that it is a healing activity.

“It’s flying. It’s fresh air. When you get up there, you have to be present,” Ware said. “You pretty much have to leave your problems behind you.”

For those who are somewhat nervous about the flight, Ware, who is admittedly afraid of heights, has an advantage over many pilots. He is a massage therapist with a laid-back and calming personality that gives passengers a relaxed sense of confidence whether they may be unsettled during the takeoff or while experiencing turbulence.

“It gives me a greater sensitivity to people,” Ware said of his 26 years as a massage therapist. “I also understand the chemical effect of the relaxation response.”

Although the small planes may provide therapy to some, others may seem them as dangerous. There is no cockpit on the plane, which looks something like a hang glider attached to a go-cart. However, according to Ware no Monsoon has ever crashed.

Ware’s Monsoon is equipped with a more sophisticated computer than the first space shuttles had. It has a 3-D GPS system that gives the pilot a wealth of information including the location of all area airports, an elevation countdown during landings, wind direction, a map of air spaces, a gauge of how much fuel is left and how long the plane can last on that fuel, and an estimated time of arrival to a selected airport and how much fuel it will require to get there. Also, if anything is out of the acceptable parameter on the plane, it sounds an alert.

The Monsoon burns approximately 3.5 gallons of fuel per hour and can fly for about four hours on a tank of gas. The average flight speed is 69 mph. It can be flown as low as the ground and as high as 10,000 feet up in the air.

Having his passengers and students understand the parts of the Monsoon and its capabilities is important to Ware as he wants them to enjoy their trip as much as he does without concerns.

“I love to take other people up,” Ware said. “I just love to hear the excitement they have when they call me up afterward. I enjoy sharing the experience of flight with others because it has meant so much to me.”

Ware flies his Monsoon every day the weather permits him to for about an hour or two at a time. Although he has flown his Monsoon elsewhere on extended trips, Ware’s furthest flight in Montana has been to St. Ignatius.

A common trip for him is one to visit his sister in Polson. He is planning to take the plane on its longest trip yet later this month — to Yellowstone National Park.

Bigfork Eagle, Thursday, August 12, 2010, By JORDAN DAWSON/Bigfork Eagle