Thank you for your service

If there is one constant in life, it is that change is inevitable. In the aviation industry, this often manifests as people leave one job to take another. Or, as in the case of JoAnn and Sandy Hill from Longmont, Colo., it can take the form of retirement after what most would agree is a long and eventful professional life.

I met the Hills on July 24, 2003. I remember the date because it was the day after I earned my initial CFI ticket. Up until then I only knew the Hills through a story I had written about the Master CFI program. At that time, they were vice presidents and directors of education for the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) and oversaw the administration of the Master Instructor program.

It was set-up day at AirVenture. The Hills, surrounded by other volunteers, were unpacking boxes of display and informational material in the NAFI tent. I walked up to JoAnn and introduced myself, telling her that in exactly two years, when I would be eligible to apply for the Master Instructor accreditation, she would be hearing from me.

Approximately two years later, JoAnn and Sandy called me to tell me that I had earned the Master Instructor designation. I believe it was at that moment that our friendship truly began.

At the time, I was working at a flight school in Seattle. Although the school had been open more than 20 years, I was the first from the school to earn the designation. The Hills fielded a lot of phone calls from coworkers who weren’t quite sure what the program was all about. JoAnn remarked that they’d never received so many phone calls from the same flight school in such a short period of time. Sandy, a retired Marine — is there really such a thing? — stated “education has taken place.” Sandy would reactivate the Marine educator mode two years later when the local FSDO was perplexed as to how to handle a CFI renewal using the Master program.

One of the things that impresses me most about the Hills is that they’ve been married since 1967 and they work together, and have managed to do both with grace and style. They are one of those aviation couples who can wear matching shirts at airshows and not look goofy. Over the years, they became sort of a second set of parents to me, providing me, and I am sure many others, with role models on how aviation couples should be. JoAnn darn near moved me to tears this year at AirVenture when she introduced me to someone as “her other daughter.” They were the first people to meet my husband-to-be. When we were engaged, Sandy offered a heart-felt OOHRAH!

For me, the Hills were synonymous with NAFI, so I was surprised when I learned that they were no longer part of the organization in 2008. I couldn’t imagine the Hills stepping out of the aviation education field. But they didn’t. In 2009, they became charter members of the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators and started Master Instructors LLC, which meant I now had two options when it came to renewing my Master CFI status. JoAnn assured me that they would continue operating Master Instructors LLC after retiring from their volunteer activities.

One of the greatest volunteer time commitments the Hills have been part of is the General Aviation Awards Program. A cooperative effort between the FAA and dozens industry sponsors, the program seeks out the best of the best among flight instructors, avionics technicians, mechanics, and representatives of the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam). In 1998, the Hills became judges for the national CFI of the Year award. In 2002, JoAnn was elected the program’s national chair and Sandy assumed the responsibilities of communications director.

Under their guidance, the process of nomination, judging and awarding the honors has become far more streamlined and now coincides with the annual aviation convention at Oshkosh.

This year marked the Hills’ last year as part of the General Aviation Awards Program. JoAnn assured me that they’d still be around, but they were ready to let someone else do the heavy lifting. This was a little difficult for me to get my head around. Can anyone really retire from something that they are so passionate about?

I was in the audience as the Hills accepted plaques honoring them for their years of volunteer service to the aviation community. It was nice to see them recognized by their peers and to have their adult children and grandchildren in attendance. We gave them a much-deserved standing ovation.

If it were not for the volunteer activities of the Hills — and so many others like them — general aviation would not be the energetic community that it is.


  1. Drew Steketee says

    Congratulations Sandy and JoAnn (my high school classmate from dear old EHS in New Jersey.)

    Well done, you two!

    Drew Steketee
    Former president, BE A PILOT

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *