After playing around at a handful of local flight schools, FBO run operations, and with a plethora of flight instructors, some of whom were good, some not so much, I made the decision to commit to a more structured arrangement with a big-time flight school. That was in 1990, two years into my flight training experience.
I’d flown with outfits in three states, logging dozens of hours in the process. But I still didn’t have my private pilot certificate.
Maybe I wasn’t as serious as I should have been. Certainly, the majority of my instructors weren’t. As I wandered through the door to Comair Aviation Academy on my first day, the entire certification process was still a mystery to me.
Essentially my initial flight training experience was one that primarily involved writing checks. I flew, but with no real purpose. The instructor would show me what to do, and I’d do it. Monkey see, monkey do.
Nobody ever showed me a Practical Test Standard or gave me even an inkling of what would be asked of me if I hoped to become a pilot.
I blame no one for that two year period of confusion, wasted resources, and minimal progress. In fact, I celebrate it. The knowledge and insight I gained from my own missteps were so valuable I consider them to be a graduate level education in the vagaries of customer service, setting goals, and achieving success.
This past week I found myself back in Sanford, Florida, at an airport that occupies the same space as the one I trained at, but bears little resemblance to the place I remember.
KSFB had two runways back in my day, 9/27 and 18/36. Today there are four runways, with 9/27 having been expanded to include 9L, 9C, and 9R. The three strips of pavement that establish the various Runway 27s correspond in the opposite direction, of course.
Comair Academy is gone now. At least the name is gone. The operation that takes place there is very much the same, with hundreds of flight students from all over the world milling about as they participate in ground school classes, or prepare for a flight, or debrief following a lesson.
The technology is light years away from what we were using when I was a student, but AeroSim Flight Academy students learn basically the same concepts my peers and I did. The physics of flight hasn’t changed, although the teaching methods have improved, and the equipment available to school administrators, instructors, and students would have been seen as miracles of science and industry when I was launching off into this career.
Although we flew nothing exotic or particularly impressive in my day, we got an excellent education that has served us well through the years. We piloted Cessna 152s for our primary training, Cessna 172s for our instrument rating, and Piper Senecas and Seminoles for our multi-engine hours.
Today, most of my friends from flight school fly turbine powered transport category aircraft for major airlines, international freight haulers, and high-end corporate flight departments.
Me? I still fly a Cessna 152 most of the time, although I’ve become tremendously fond of the Piper Cub in my hangar. Who knew 65 horsepower could be so much fun and so educational?
As fate would have it, I received a note this past week from the instructor who got me through my private and instrument training. I didn’t realize that I was the first person he ever signed off for a practical test. Maybe he didn’t realize it either, until he reviewed his log book. Believe it or not, we’re still in touch after all these years. We even met up at AirVenture last year, where I got to meet his wife and twin boys.
Later in the week I ran into a former flight student of my own at the post office. It really is a small world after all. Not only is my former student still flying, his son just accepted a position that will put him in the front row of an airliner.
One thing leads to another.
On Saturday I was presenting one of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Rusty Pilot seminars at the EAA Chapter 908 clubhouse in Fort Pierce, Florida, when a fellow introduced himself to me and asked when I had instructed at a particular central Florida school. I told him, and we realized we had both been there at the same time.
I was an instructor when he was a student at the same school. He’s made a career out of aviation, not in the cockpit, but in the administrative end of things. Yet, he’s still as intrigued with managing the cockpit, and so he’s getting back into that end of the game as an enhancement to the private side of his life. He’ll continue as an administrator, professionally.
Capping all this off, the board of directors of my flying club met last week and agreed to start working toward establishing a scholarship program to significantly supplement the training costs for new young student pilots seeking a private pilot certificate.
All these interactions happened last week. Each one is a completely separate event that has nothing to do with the others, unless you choose to look below the surface and see how they’re all connected. And they most definitely are connected.
The transition can be long, from being a largely ignorant newbie to becoming the old pro who makes a positive impact. But any one of us can do just that if we choose to. It just takes time, and effort.
I choose to. I hope you will too. If you can, meet me at the SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In and Expo next week in Lakeland, Florida, and we’ll talk about the possibilities.