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Learning to fly: Aviation has always been a big part of Donny Letson’s life

Donny Letson stands next to a Cessna 152, the plane he flew the most to receive his pilot’s license. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- For Donny Letson, aviation is a family tradition.

His father, Tom, is a pilot for Delta Air Lines. His mother, Liz, used to be a flight attendant for American Airlines and has her pilot license to boot. His brother Jake is attending the U.S. Naval Academy, with the goal of being an aviator in the U.S. Navy.

And now Letson, a senior at Bemidji High School, recently received his pilot's license.

"It's something that I've always wanted, as a personal goal, everyone in my family is a private pilot," he said.

Letson started his training in February, which included a written exam, 40 hours of flying, an oral exam and a check ride flight with an instructor. He finished the training in about six months, completing everything by late July.

Before earning his pilot's license, Letson had spent his fair share of time around the planes, he had been working at Bemidji Aviation as a line technician for a little more than a year. "Working out here you are kind of immersed in aviation," he said, "but also I've really grown up around aviation."

Letson loves the feeling of flight. "It's a really unique experience, I enjoy it because you're above everything else and it's a different perspective," he said.

Letson is in the process of applying for the U.S. Naval Academy. "I feel like people would think that I'm following my brother's footsteps," he said. "In a way I am because I want to go the same school but I don't want to take the same direction as he is."

He hopes to attend the academy to study engineering and become an infantry marine. "I'm hopeful that I'll get it (accepted to the academy) but I'm not going to assume that I'm going to get in just because my brother did," he said.

While growing up Letson spent a large amount of time with his grandparents. His grandfather was a Korean War veteran. "He kind of instilled in me a will and I've always felt it was my duty to serve my country and join the military," Letson said.

Letson explained that having his pilot's license specifically won't help him be accepted but "they are looking for looking for unique things that people do and things that make you an individual."

Letson is also active in other high school activities and is a member of the football, track and field and trap teams.

About Out and About

Out and About is a Pioneer feature where we will profile everyday people doing everyday things in and around Bemidji. We run stories on Tuesdays. If you know someone you think should be profiled, please email Maggi Stivers at or email

Maggi Stivers

Maggi Stivers is a Multi-Media Journalist at the Bemidji Pioneer. She covers art and entertainment in the Bemidji area. She is a 2013 Bemidji State graduate majoring in mass communications with a minor in sociology. Contact her at (218) 333-9790 or

(218) 333-9790