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Yosemite Flights: Taking Off

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.”