Updated: Apr 8, 2022
You’ve seen it from the rivers and trails. From the valley floor. From Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point. Maybe even from the top of Half Dome. But have you seen Yosemite from the air? We’re not talking about squinting out the tiny, foggy window of a 767 at 35,000 feet. We mean birds-eye views of the splendor of our neighboring wilderness. Sites that you know and love. Pristine glacial valleys in the high Sierra where few humans tread.
While we have a large, active community of flyboys and girls here in Groveland, relatively few lucky people get to experience the Sierra the way you’ll see it with Yosemite Flights. Jason and Krystall Johanson and friends Rex and Emily Pemberton started Yosemite Flights in 2020 (another brave new local business started during the pandemic) because they enjoyed flying family and friends to Yosemite when they visited.
Following many discussions with the FAA and Yosemite National Park, they came up with a flight path and a business plan. They rented and renovated an office at Pine Mountain Lake airport, Yosemite Flights’ base of operations.
"It's an amazing experience and adventure to share. We wanted to give others the same opportunities,” said Krystall, who manages the operational side of Yosemite Flights, now run solely by the Johansons after the Pembertons moved on last year to other international adventures.
Yosemite Flights maintains a fleet of three aircraft, running flights for two to nine passengers. The smallest, a Cessna 182, is a 4-seat high wing aircraft for flights with 2 or 3 passengers. The Cessna 206 is very similar but is a 6-seater that can accommodate 5 passengers. (Remember, the pilot has to sit somewhere!) The Cessna 404 is a 10-seat, low wing, very quiet airplane with large windows, making it a perfect aircraft for tours who want the most amazing visibility. All three are great for scenic flight tours and each offers offers unique opportunities for custom aerial photography flights, with windows that can be opened, photo portholes or even doors-off capability for commercial photographers and videographers, shooting for organizations like National Geographic.
Being a flight tour operator takes the right stuff. This highly technical service requires expert flight and maintenance skills. Jason Johanson has been a pilot since 2007 and has over 6000 flight hours. He has an airline transport rating (ATP), as well as a commercial license to fly helicopters and seaplanes. Jason also holds flight instructor ratings (CFI, CFII, MEI), and airframe and powerplant mechanic certifications (A&P). Jason attends flight safety simulator training twice a year and maintains an FAA first class medical certification.
Each plane in Yosemite Flights’ fleet was inspected by the FAA prior to operations for the business, is regularly maintained by the pilot and another FAA certified inspector (IA) on the field, and undergoes annual inspections from PAS Aviation in Modesto, CA. “The benefit of living in an airpark like Pine Mountain Lake,” said Jason, “is that living with the planes gives me daily opportunities to inspect and maintain each plane.”
In his spare time, Jason maintains and flies a Twin Engine SeaBee. This plane was originally built as a single engine Seabee in 1946, and only twenty-three were converted to twin engine. It is a very rare and unusual-looking airplane; only about five are still flying in the U.S. This particular plane was once owned and flown by former President Nixon's best friend, Bebe Rebozo, and was featured in numerous films, including the movie Caddyshack. Not just another pretty face, this amphibious airplane is now used for Multi-Engine Seaplane training; some students have moved on to fly as air attack fire fighters that scoop water from lakes. To see more, you can go to www.mesrating.com.
Yosemite Flights offers two types of flights: "scenic flight tours" and "aerial photography" flights. Scenic flight tours follow a set flight plan where the pilot and/or tour guide point out interesting features along the way. Aerial photography flights are customized by the passengers (photographers and videographers) to capture the desired images or video needed. Scenic flight tours operate within 25 miles of the airport and can be booked online or over the phone. Aerial photography flights, which can be customized for the locations of your choice, are arranged over the phone only. Also popular are evening flights to catch our area’s spectacular sunsets.
In just two short years, Yosemite Flights has flown honeymooners, families, hikers who climbed Half Dome the day before, passengers with disabilities who would otherwise be unable to view the park beyond the paved path, lots of locals, photographers and videographers, and now, Krystall notes, international travelers are returning. One of Yosemite Flights’ first bookings was for a passenger named Neil Armstrong–not THE Neil Armstrong–but they were excited nonetheless.
The Johansons first learned about Pine Mountain Lake in 2011 from friend Rex Pemberton. They bought a home on the back taxiway in 2012 as an investment property. Originally intending to fix it up and rent it out, the family loved it so much, they decided to live there part time instead. In 2017, they took the leap and moved here full-time, and are now located on the runway.
With some previous experience managing long-term leased properties in their hometown of Turlock, CA, the Johansons started a short-term rental business here. Prior to becoming a pilot, Jason worked in construction and maintains his contractors license, which helps with renovating and maintaining their four rentals. The division of tasks works well for this pair. Jason focuses primarily on his flight businesses and jobs, while Krystall supports the business with the office work, client relations, and managing the rentals.
With feet barely touching the ground, these entrepreneurs have still more plans to benefit our community. “We love Pine Mountain Lake and have chosen to invest our time and resources here,” said Krystall. “We even have plans to build a restaurant back on the airport in a couple of years.”
That’s the spirit! To that, we say, “Yosemite Flights. You’re cleared for takeoff.”
Visit their website at www.yosemiteflights.com.