Fight or Flight? He Chooses the Sky
by Molly Osberg
If you accuse Dennis Whitmer of having his head in the clouds, chances are you’re right.
Attorney and Colorado Bar Association Trust and Estate Section chair, Whitmer stays busy in and out of the office. Behind the desk, he is a vice president and trust officer at Colorado State Bank and Trust. In his playtime, he is literally in the clouds, twirling, looping and spinning aerobatic planes.
"I’m just scratching the surface," Whitmer said. "I love flying. It touches my soul."
Whitmer was born and raised in Kansas, earning his bachelor’s degree in history and his master’s degree in counseling at Kansas State University. After taking the LSAT on a dare, he attended the University of Kansas School of Law and graduated in 1979.
"I practiced law for a year and was the 15th attorney at a 15-attorney firm," he said. "It was very competitive and everything seemed like a fight. Trust work is much more to my liking and I’ve found that my legal background is very beneficial in the trust field."
Whitmer came to Denver in 1984 and has been with Colorado State Bank and Trust for 14 years.
"Being a trust officer is nice because I’m not in competition with those who I work with at the bar association," he continued. "I don’t have to be in fight mode."
While Whitmer isn’t fond of competition in the office, his "fight mode" soars in the sky. He has been competing in aerial competitions for two years and has had his pilots’ license for three-and-a-half years.
Before college, Whitmer was in the U.S. Air Force and had always been enamored with flight and planes. Ideally, he would have liked to fly jets for the military but his less-than-perfect vision prevented that from happening.
"After college, I thought that maybe I would postpone learning how to fly until I retired," he said. "But as I got older, more people I knew passed away from cancer or other circumstances. I realized that you only live once."
Whitmer joined the Air West Flying Club at the Jefferson County Airport, got his license in one-and-a-half years, and was introduced to aerobatics. Now, he flies aerobatic planes at least once a week.
"Most people confuse aerobatic flying with stunt flying. It’s quite different than stunt flying, and actually is extremely safe. People incorrectly equate aerobatic flying to what they see at air shows. While stunt and aerobatic flying have many of the same maneuvers, aerobatic flying is done at a much higher altitude, where stunt flying can be done only a few hundred feet from the ground with recoveries as low as 10-20 feet. The lower to the ground, the bigger the thrill, but there is also an increased danger level."
Whitmer competes three times a year, mostly in Sterling, Colo. Right now he’s in the Sportsman Category, the second level of competition where pilots aren’t allowed to fly closer than 1,500 feet to the ground.
Despite what many would probably think, recreational flying doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. The cost to rent the plane he currently uses and fuel for an hour is $85. To tack an instructor to the bill, when learning new moves, add $35.
Whitmer describes himself as a "point A to point A flyer" in agreeable weather: "I’m doing this for fun. So many who fly feel that they need to justify their licenses by flying from point A to point B (cross-country). Doctors, lawyers and other professionals are often times very busy people and don’t have the ability to really keep up with their training. At the same time, they develop have-to-be-there-itis, where they opt to fly rather than drive.
‘I’ve settled enough estates of people who have died in marginal-weather plane crashes; I don’t need to take chances. I just enjoy going out on a nice day to look at the world from a different perspective. I love it."