The commuting collegian – Matt Reap gets there via aircraft

Northeast State student Matt Reap commutes to college. That doesn’t make him different from thousands of other students.  But how he arrives isn’t quite the standard trip.

Reap flies his single-engine, fixed-wing Cessna 172 aircraft from Abingdon, Va., to the Tri-Cities Regional Airport for spring classes two days each week. His commute is shorter than many students who drive to the main campus in Blountville.

“This is my first semester actually flying to school so given good weather conditions the commute time is usually 15 to 20 minutes,” said Reap. “Flying is something I have always loved doing because it is about feeling that freedom.”

Reap opted to attend Northeast State after graduating from Abingdon High School. He co-owns the Cessna with two other individuals. His flights have taken him to South Carolina and Richmond, Virginia.

Reap started flying at age 17. He amassed more than 115 flight hours and earned his pilot’s license. He mastered the regulations of visual flight rules (VFR) to pilot his Cessna.

“The minimum time to get your license is 40 hours of flight time. Once you have done your solo flight you continue your training,” he said. “I’d like to continue forward and become an airline pilot or corporate business pilot.”

Matt Reap disembarks from a flight in his Cessna.
Matt Reap disembarks from a flight in his Cessna.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, licensed pilots must follow VFR regulations to operate an aircraft. VFR regulations require an aircraft be operated in weather conditions clear enough for the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. A pilot must be able to operate the aircraft with visual reference to the ground, and visually avoid obstructions and other aircraft.

Reap plans to master instrument flight rules (IFR) used in larger aircraft to navigate with altitude and directional instruments. That involves stringent flight training about instrument technique, air traffic control communications and procedures, and avionics.

“When you master the IFR it doesn’t matter about clouds and certain weather conditions because you fly using your instruments,” said Reap. “You also pay special attention to the weight and balance in the aircraft because that is critical in maintaining control.”

When traveling to Northeast State Reap departs from Virginia Highlands Airport in Abingdon. Before take-off he reviews weather data and conducts a check of the aircraft’s external working features. He does a pre-flight check and gauges the weight on board the aircraft.

Because Virginia Highlands Airport has no tower, Reap radios his intention to take-off and enter airspace on a radio frequency transmitting to any nearby aircraft. Once acknowledged Reap taxis down the runway to take-off and heads toward the Tri-Cities.

The Tri Cities Regional Airport is identified by the acronym KTRI in flight communications. Once the airport comes into view he contacts the control tower at KTRI to inform them of his approach. The tower acknowledges his transmission and grants him permission to land. Tower controllers advise him of an open runway. Once on the ground, Reap takes the Cessna to a designated hold area on the field and “ties down” the aircraft.

“Landing is probably the most difficult think you have to do,” he said. “You have to account for cross winds and what direction they are coming from and adjust for it.”

Flight comes naturally in Reap’s family. His father is a licensed pilot. His uncle was a U.S. Marine Corps pilot who flew fighter jets in the Korean conflict and helicopters during the Vietnam War.

Reap will graduate from Northeast State with his associate degree this fall. With the demand for regional airline pilots expected to increase in the coming years, his own career flight plan seems headed toward becoming a commercial pilot.

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