I guess you could call me a late bloomer in life. As I write this, I’m 63 years of age and only a little over a year and a half into my flight instructor career. I’ve been aviating in some form or other since 1970 when I first took a flight lesson in a red-and-white candy-striped 1946 Aeronca Champ from our family’s grass strip in Ohio and, after we landed, my flight instructor would take me to school.
I went on to solo four days after my sixteenty birthday. My dad was a successful dairy farmer and owned two Skylanes, a 1969 and a 1975 model, which is what I would learn to fly next. It was on those IFR trips that I would develop an interest in air traffic control, and a visit to that vast windowless building called Cleveland Center in Oberlin, Ohio, sealed the deal for me.
I joined the US Air Force and, after basic training and ATC school at Keesler AFB in Mississippi, I spent the next four years working the VFR tower at Wright Patterson AFB. Of course, a career in the FAA was next and, after being notified of my acceptance in December of 1978, I headed to Oklahoma City for FAA terminal air traffic control school.
Alas, life took an unexpected turn. I decided to leave ATC for a career in broadcasting and after obtaining a degree in radio/TV/marketing and advertising, I spent many years behind the microphone. Like many of us, I was like a human pinball in my career, gravitating from one place to the next.
But it was in 2016, after a dozen years building homes, that I had an epiphany of sorts and decided to see what opportunities might lie in flying. After having spent a few years as a substitute teacher in mostly high school classes, I found that I had the knack for teaching and motivating people. The opportunity to stand in front of those high school students is partly what motivated me next.
I had heard about the pilot shortage and especially the shortage of CFIs and, with 500-plus hours, a commercial certificate with instrument and multi ratings, all I had to do was take the two written tests and, of course, fulfill the practical flying portion. Like most of us, I exaggerated my flying abilities and it took me twice as many hours to finish as I assumed. However, on New Year’s morning 2017, my examiner gave the two thumbs up and turned me loose. I can’t express here what a feeling that was for me. A true fist pump moment as I left KPWA that morning.
A CFI friend who worked with me on this rating told me that I would probably ruin the lives of my students for the first 100 hours that I instructed. It was true, but hopefully not that bad. As of this writing, I have over 700 instructing hours in most every single-engine trainer out there, and I have evolved in my thinking about this whole business of training homo sapiens to safely take to the skies. Here are some of my observations.
First, after soloing several students, I have decided, that, if I were king, I would make a decree that every person in America would be required to learn to fly and at least land the airplane unassisted. The look on a person’s face and their demeanor at that moment is priceless. I always make a point on the rollout to put my hands in the air and tell them. “That was all you, buddy (girl), I didn’t touch a thing.” Of course, they say, “Really?”
Secondly, I have started taking a more holistic view and stance and I consider what I do as more like being an instructor of an airborne ropes course. Our culture is one where people tend to watch other people do things instead of taking the risk of doing it them themselves. This is important. Flying airplanes successfully is a huge confidence-building exercise. I applaud every student’s successful turn, stall, landing etc. I teach confidence and decision making. I just happen to use a big piece of aluminum called an airplane to do it.
Third, flying is an art more than a science. The skills involved since those days on my dad’s grass strip have remained but because of technology, flight planning is much easier. Flying airplanes is not that difficult if you have enough repetition. Having said that, my least favorite type of student is the bucket list or I’ve-always-wanted-to-try-this person. There is a good amount of study and commitment involved in this activity and anyone doing it requires a good level of discipline.
I am six months into having passed my CFII check ride, which at my age will most likely be my last. On December 10, 2017, performing the job and service of being a CFII is even more special now, since it was on that night that I suffered an unexpected heart attack. It took 211 days of waiting, but my medical is now restored.
Want to make a difference? I encourage anyone my age to consider getting back into the game and teaching the next generation. We sure do need you.