A bird’s-eye view: Photographer publishes aerial views of WNC’s highest peaks

Written by Holly Kays

If Garrett Fisher had his way, he’d live on the side of a mountain with a glacier as his next-door neighbor.

Some people might consider his Wyoming home, located at 5,633 feet above sea level, to be close enough, but Fisher craves more elevation than that. So, he satisfies his thirst for altitude with aviation.

Namely, a little Piper PA-11 Cub Special that putters along at 75 miles per hour.

Fisher’s not a joyrider, though. A freelance financial consultant by trade and the author of eight books — seven of photography and one on economics — it’s safe to say he’s a driven person, and when he’s behind the controls of a plane, he likes to have a purpose behind the trip. For the past few years, that purpose has been aerial photography, and he’s showcased the results in a series of five books.

His two most recent publications, Appalachian Altitude: Flying the Highest Peaks of the South and Flying the Blue Ridge Parkway, venture east to show off a slew of vistas dear to anyone who’s ever explored Western North Carolina.

“Part of what drove me,” Fisher said, “was the fact that a lot of the Carolina mountains, as beautiful as they are, you’re sitting in the forest at the top of the mountains, which is very disappointing to me because the purpose of climbing a mountain is to look at something.”

 Though he currently resides in Wyoming, Fisher’s lived in Charlotte off and on for a total of 10 years. During those years, he’d make it a point to get out in the woods of WNC as much as possible. One of those years was 2010, the year he inherited the plane that reignited his love of flying.

He’d been warned to stay away from the mountains, told that mountains and airplanes don’t mix well. So naturally, he started to “putz around” the Smokies and the Balsams, snapping photos out of the window for fun.

At that point, though, he didn’t have anything close to a book in mind, and before long he’d moved way out to Colorado, where 14,000-foot peaks tantalized him as he stood in the airport. Nobody seemed to know much about flying the mountains, but Fisher was OK with the learn-as-you-go approach. He soon seized on a project: photographing all 58 of Colorado’s mountains over 14,000 feet.

He finished the project and published a book. Soon afterward, he found himself living in Charlotte for six months and figured that, by comparison, photographing the southeast’s 40 peaks over 6,000 feet should be pretty easy.

“I was like, ‘I’m here, I already did the 14ers,’” he recalled. “‘Seriously. How hard could doing the 40 over six be?”

Famous last words. As it turns out, flying the Appalachians is a lot harder than flying the much-higher Rockies. There are trees everywhere, meaning few safe places to land in case of emergency. The air holds more moisture, and judging the suitability of weather conditions requires more finesse.

“I was more petrified flying in the Carolinas than in Colorado, just because of the weather, the clouds,” Fisher said. “If the engine quit, it really would have sucked.”

Luckily for him, that didn’t happen, so while there were some scary moments — once when flying on the Blue Ridge Escarpment, which is only 3,000 feet above sea level, fast and turbulent winds actually flipped his plane in midair — there were many more beautiful, tranquil ones. The pinnacle was on a flight near Marion during a calm, mostly cloudy day.

“I circled up through a hole in the clouds, and there was just this sea of beautiful light everywhere. Oh, it was just stunning,” he recalled.

There’s an air of discovery to the flying, a quest for places that would take days to access on the ground but can be reached in a matter of hours from the air. The views are sweeping, serene — but for Fisher, it’s not enough to get in a plane just for the sake of the flight. Having a finished product to chase is crucial.

“I’m kind of driven in that respect,” he said.

Now, with five aerial photography books published — and seven photography books total — he’s got a total of 15 different projects in the works, some of which are mostly done and others that might never get started.

“I’m looking for things that have not been done and are unconventional, and everything has to be pretty,” he said. “I won’t touch it if it’s not pretty.”

He sees his books as utilitarian, as well. Fisher recalls his frustration as a hiker at not knowing what views the trees obscured and his inability to attach individual names to the sea of blue-green peaks greeting him at overlooks. He hopes his books will act as an addendum to traditional hiking guides, a way for adventurers to put names with the views they see and experience an angle that’s impossible to get from the ground.

“I try to make things useful and beautiful,” he said.

For instance, he said, one of the projects in his ever-lengthening docket is a book cataloguing the path of the Appalachian Trail, a much-revered route that’s largely covered with trees. It would be a hard project to complete, he admits, as it’s easy to lose track of the trail when following it from the air. And he’s got plenty else to be getting on with — current projects include aerial shots of the New River in West Virginia and Virginia and a catalogue of glaciers in Wyoming and Montana.

“Some days I wonder what the hell’s wrong with me,” Fisher laughs.

But then the plane takes off, mountains pierce the blue sky and the question answers itself.

How it’s done

Aerial photography comes a lot easier to pilot Garrett Fisher now than when he first began experimenting in 2010, but “photo-ing,” as he calls it, is still an art that involves doing two things at once. 

“Basically, one hand’s always on the stick, my feet are always on the rudder anyway, so I’m still flying the plane,” he said. 

To prepare for a photo, Fisher will first check that there’s no other air traffic around, and then he’ll point the plane away from any obstacles, such as mountains, that might be in the vicinity. He picks up the camera — equipped with a polarizing filter and wide-angle lens — and snaps a series of photos. The whole thing takes about 10 seconds. 

“It’s gotten to be completely instinctive,” he said. 

Sometimes he’ll circle around to get few different takes of the same area, but mostly he just lets the plane meander, taking photos along the way and seeing what he’s got when he’s back on the ground. The plane can go for about three hours before refueling, but he often stays out longer than that. When shooting his Parkway and Appalachian books, the longest day was a nine-hour excursion from Charlotte to Shenandoah National Park and back. 

“When I get home, it’s kind of a glorious mix of exhaustion and complete satisfaction,” he said. 

The plane itself is a lot different than the commercial airliners that blast along at speeds of 600 miles per hour. Usually, Fisher’s flying at about 75 miles per hour somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 feet above the ground — an altitude most commercial jets exceed in their first 9 seconds of flight. 

“People would basically crap themselves,” Fisher said, if their commercial flight flew like his plane, but for him it’s a good setup. “Slowness translates to a margin of error and time to deal with a crises.”

Charter School Set to Revolutionize State’s Aviation Industry

By Meg Smith, TWC News

One of the state’s oldest charter schools that’s set to revolutionize the state’s aerospace industry opened the doors to its new building Thursday.

Rising eigth grader Vy Bui is excited about starting a new school year at Phoenix Academy.

“It’s amazing,” Bui said. “There’s a lot of opportunities out there in the aviation industry, and this really puts us forward.”

She helped Governor Pat McCrory cut the ribbon on the school’s brand new building Thursday.


“We have a skills gap right now in North Carolina,” Gov. McCrory said. “We have a lot of kids that are graduating from high schools, community colleges and universities, that frankly aren’t meeting the skills needs of what the private sector needs right now.”

“We have an aging workforce in aviation,” said HAECO Americas vice president Kip Blakely. “So many people that were in the Vietnam War, when they got out of the military, they came to work in aviation. Those folks are ready to retire.”

The school will hopefully fill thousands of those gaps in the coming years.

“Phoenix Academy is going to afford people a career and opportunity in aviation that’s really going to change our entire industry,” Blakely said.

An aviation hangar at the school will soon be home to a prototype of an airplane that will give students hands-on experience.

“We plan to have students plan to come to visit by the time they’re in the 9th and 10th grade,” Blakely said. “By the time they’re in the 11th grade, they’ll have a five-week job shadowing opportunity. Then, by the time they’re seniors, they’ll be co-enrolled at GTCC, and have a paid internship at one of the aviation companies here in Greensboro.”

The first day of classes for students at the school was Friday, August 21.

New Asheboro Regional Airport terminal plans taxi along

News & Record

Proposed plans and the price tag for a new terminal building at the Asheboro Regional Airport will be unveiled in about six weeks.

The terminal would have a restaurant, Cafe Flyte, as well as meeting space, and would provide modern facilities for those who pilot, and fly in, the hundreds of planes that come and go at the airport every month.


The new building — designed to resemble an airplane whether viewed from the air or from the ground — would replace a small and outdated building that opened in 1972. It would connect to the existing North Carolina Aviation Museum, which also houses the state aviation Hall of Fame.

The museum occupies two hangars and features a number of planes, extensive displays of artifacts and memorabilia, and a museum shop.

The vision is to build on the economic and tourism potential of the airport on Pilots View Road, off N.C. 49 west of town.

“We believe that this is going to be a very, very strong thing for this community,” Bob Crumley said Thursday night at a joint meeting of the Asheboro City Council and the Asheboro Airport Authority.

“This is a very important asset,” said Ogburn. “We’re one of 26 business class airports in North Carolina.”

Crumley and Steve Knight first talked to city council members about the idea last November. At the time, they said they envisioned potential funding from city, county, state and federal governments and private donations. In January, city council members gave the OK to pay about $50,000 for design services for a new terminal building.

The airport was established in its present location in the mid-1960s.The runway is more than a mile long, enough to accommodate most business jets. The facility also has a full-length taxiway. The next project, City Engineer Michael Leonard told members of the two boards on Thursday, will be to rebuild the apron — the area of an airport where planes are parked, unloaded or loaded, refueled, or boarded. The state is going to pay for that project so the city can save federal monies it receives annually for use at the Asheboro airport to help pay for the expansion.

Work is also under way to gain approval for precision approaches at the airport, reducing the minimum altitude of approaches from 800 feet to about 300 feet, so that pilots can fly into and out of the facility when visibility is low.

The state budget for fiscal year 2015-2016 may include several million dollars for projects such as the proposed terminal, Crumley said, and, if it does, “Asheboro’s proposal is at the top of the charts.”

After the meeting, Crumley said work should be completed on the proposal for presentation in about six weeks, perhaps at a joint meeting of county commissioners and the city council.

FAA funding up in the air

General Aviation News

The unfinished debate over highway funding in Congress is likely to ground hopes for passing a new funding bill for the FAA, according to a report from The Hill.

The FAA bill is scheduled to expire Sept. 30. But Congress is expected to return its focus on highways upon returning to Washington next month, because lawmakers punted debate on a long-term surface transportation-funding bill into October before leaving for their August recess.

Aviation advocates worry that this means aviation will get the short end of the stick when lawmakers return to Washington, according to the report.

HAECO Cabin Solutions Plans $11.3 Million Expansion In High Point

ECO Americas’ aircraft interiors unit HAECO Cabin Solutions will invest $11.3 million to expand its manufacturing plant in High Point, North Carolina. The company plans to create 127 new jobs over the next five years in Guilford County.

HAECO Cabin Solutions, formerly known as TIMCO Aerosystems, LLC, provides interior design engineering, certification and project integration for aircraft fleets and manufactures a variety of components for aircraft interiors, including its line of Vector passenger seats and FeatherWeight galleys and lavatories.

Kevin Carter, CEO for HAECO Americas, said, “We are experiencing significant growth in our aircraft interiors business, and the time is right for us to move ahead with this expansion.” He added, “The decision to expand in North Carolina was easy for us with its magnificent pool of employee talent and strong state and local partnerships.”

The project is being made possible in part by a performance-based grant from the One North Carolina Fund of up to $294,000. The One NC Fund provides financial assistance, through local governments, to attract business projects that will stimulate economic activity and create new jobs in the state. Companies receive no money up front and must meet job creation and investment performance standards to qualify for grant funds. One NC grants also require and are contingent upon financial matches from local governments.

In addition to N.C. Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of N.C., other partners that helped with this project include the North Carolina Community College System, NCWorks, Duke Energy, High Point Economic Development Corporation, the City of High Point and Guilford County.

“Nothing compares to the talent, training and specialized resources aviation and aerospace companies find in North Carolina,” said Governor Pat McCrory. “This world-class company selected our state because we offer the right ingredients for their business to achieve more.”

N.C. teen earns pilot’s license with help of CAP

Joyce Orlando – Shelby Star

Tommy David Willis loves flying so much that he learned to operate a plane before he could drive a car.

As a 15-year-old in 2013, Willis took his first flight lesson. Two years later, he has his private pilot’s license. The accomplishment comes after a life-long love of flight and the help and support of his family.

“I’ve always had an interest in aviation,” Willis said.

Willis’ interest in becoming a pilot began at age 13 when he flew in his first small-passenger aircraft.

“I had been flying in passenger aircraft most of my life and enjoyed it,” he said. “When I first flew in the smaller aircraft, becoming a pilot seemed more attainable and not just a dream.”

His mother, Lisa Willis, remembered when he was a toddler and the family got a lesson from the flight crew. She recalls her son’s initial excitement in the cockpit, and how his love for flight and planes has stayed with him all of those years.

“We are so proud of him,” Lisa said.

Flying for the first time

When Willis, a home-schooled student who has already received his diploma, took the controls of a plane for the first time when he was 16-years-old, it was a moment he could barely describe.

“It was a really free type of feeling and an adrenaline rush,” Willis said. “There were no limits or bounds. I had it the day before my birthday. It’s pretty different, it’s just not what your average person does.”

Willis was under the tutelage of Gene Meade, a flight instructor with Compass Aviation.

“He had to worked very hard to attain this license,” Meade said. “He is a really intellegent young man.”

Willis reached his goal by doing extra homework and learning the intracicies of the systems on the aircraft to get his certification, Meade said.

“He just wanted to do more and was eager to be at the advance air-stage when he got his license, and not just knowing the basics,” Meade said.

The cost of flight:

Willis passed his private pilot flight test on July 25 at the Shelby-Cleveland County Municipal Airport. Following a celebration with friend and family, Willis took his mother and aunt on a flight.

To get a private pilot’s license, it can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $16,000. To help pay for this cost, Willis joined Cleveland County’s Civil Air Patrol. CAP offers scholarships to teens to assist them in obtaining their license. It also helps teach them learn more about aeronautics and military discipline.

“I had to be a cadet second lieutenant and receive the Mitchell award,” Willis said.  In CAP, cadets start out as airman and work their way up through the ranks.   The Gen. Billy Mitchell Award is earned by cadets who have successfully completed the second phase of the program, marking the end of the enlisted phase.   CAP offers multiple scholarships to members to help obtain their pilot’s license.  Willis is still an active member in CAP.  Willis plans to attend the Airline Training Pilot Flight School in Concord with the hope of becoming a commercial pilot.  He is hopeful and excited about starting the next step in his career path.   He also hopes others will look at his story as a way of fulfilling their own dreams.  “Anyone can do it (learn to fly), and they can do it at any age,” Willis said.

Boeing forecasts rising demand for pilots, mechanics

General Aviation News

At this year’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Boeing released a new forecast showing continued strong demand for airline pilots and maintenance technicians as the world’s airlines add 38,000 airplanes to the global fleet over the next 20 years.

Boeing’s 2015 Pilot and Technician Outlook projects that between 2015 and 2034, the world will require 558,000 new airline pilots and 609,000 new airline maintenance technicians.

“To help address this need, Boeing trained last year a record number of pilots and technicians at 17 training campuses around the globe and has invested in a comprehensive Pilot Development Program to train early stage pilots to become qualified commercial airline pilots,” said Sherry Carbary, vice president, Boeing Flight Services. “We will continue to increase the amount of training we provide, enabling our customers to satisfy the world’s growing appetite for air travel.”

Pilots in Simulator; Pilots on flight deck; Female Co-Pilot; Male African-American Pilot; K66420-03

“The challenge of meeting the global demand for airline professionals will not be solved by one company alone,” Carbary added. “Aircraft manufacturers, airlines, training equipment manufacturers, training delivery organizations, regulatory agencies and educational institutions are all stepping up to meet the increasing need to train and certify pilots and technicians.”

Boeing’s 2015 Outlook projects continued increases in pilot demand, up more than 4% compared to the 2014 Outlook. For maintenance technicians, demand increased approximately 5%.

Overall global demand will be driven by continued economic expansion, resulting in an average requirement for about 28,000 new pilots and more than 30,000 new technicians every year.

The 20-year projected demand for new pilots and technicians by region is:

  • Asia Pacific: 226,000 pilots and 238,000 technicians;
  • Europe: 95,000 pilots and 101,000 technicians;
  • North America: 95,000 pilots and 113,000 technicians;
  • Latin America: 47,000 pilots and 47,000 technicians;
  • Middle East: 60,000 pilots and 66,000 technicians;
  • Africa: 18,000 pilots and 22,000 technicians; and
  • Russia/CIS: 17,000 pilots and 22,000 technicians.