After reviewing my first log book I can tell you with complete confidence that my first instructional flight took place on Aug. 2, 1988. My instructor and I flew out of MacArthur Airport in Islip, Long Island.
Our chariot was a PA-28-151. N32559. We had to get a Special VFR clearance to take off. Yeah, that’s how my journey began. In Special VFR. It was a bumpy start.
My first nine instructional flights took place in four different types of aircraft. I had no idea that was non-traditional or that it wasn’t particularly beneficial to my learning process. But I was hooked and found a way to persevere through all the standard difficulties typically encountered by someone undertaking a program of flight training.
Besides flying multiple types in my early training, I had the opportunity to fly with a fair number of different instructors. Some were very good. Some, not so good. But they all taught me something and although I probably wasn’t their dream student, I found a way to stumble my way through the process and become a pilot.
Over the course of my career I’ve gotten the opportunity to do things I had no reason to expect were available to me. It’s been great. I’ve had a lot of fun, been pretty scared a couple times, and in general have no regrets about my choice to spend the rest of my life playing around with small-ish airplanes fitted with piston engines driving propellers through the air.
In these past 30 years of flying I’ve learned something that I think is worth passing on. Specifically, passing on to you, the reader of this column.
Because you are a big part of what has made my career, my life in aviation, so rewarding. It’s true.
For all the hardware I’ve had the pleasure to fly, for all the magic boxes mounted in the panel that have eased my workload, for all the experiences I’ve had repairing structures, replacing engines, and generally playing with big boy’s toys, the thing I’ve come to value most in aviation is you. The people I come in contact with and share those experiences with.
You may not believe that, but it’s true.
A particularly happy memory for me involves attending SUN ‘n FUN for the first time. The annual gathering of aeronuts from around the world intrigued me then, as it does now. The show is bigger and arguably better than it was three decades ago, and my role in it has certainly changed significantly.
I knew no one when I attended the first time. I went alone, as none of my friends saw much point in going. They just weren’t interested. Me? I was transfixed.
One of the things I recall most vividly was walking past the FAA building (now known as the Orlando Field Office) where Dave Shallbetter was holding court with a very basic version of what has become SUN ‘n FUN Radio.
Dave is a friend now, as he has been for more than 20 years. And he’s a great example of what I’ve found to be the best, most exciting, most fulfilling aspect of my time in aviation. The people.
The machines are fascinating. The aerial routines make our jaws drop. The culture of general aviation is one of personal responsibility, camaraderie, mentorship, and constant learning. All good things.
But each of those things involves people, and they are what keep me coming back. And by “they,” I mean you. You are the greatest mystery and the greatest gift I’ve encountered in my working life.
“You” encompasses thousands of readers, each with their own story. Each with something totally unique to share. It also relates to you in particular. Because you and your story is every bit as intriguing as any of the others.
Thankfully, I get to meet thousands of you throughout the course of each new year. Whether it’s at SUN ‘n FUN, where I first fell in love with the big aerial circus that rolls through central Florida each year, or at smaller, more intimate shows scattered across the landscape.
It’s not at all unusual for someone to approach me on the ramp or in an airport restaurant to say “Hi.” I like that sort of thing. I’ve gotten to meet some amazing folks that way. But I meet the most people and have the most fun at those great aeronautical gatherings, large and small, throughout the year.
For planning purposes, let me share with you some inside information. If you were thinking of being any of the places I’m planning to be for the remainder of this year, I hope you’ll mark your calendar, track me down, and say “Howdy” whenever our paths cross.
On Oct. 26-27 you can find me in Gulf Shores, Alabama, at the AOPA Regional Fly-In at Jack Edwards Field (KJKA).
On Nov. 1-3 I’ll be hanging out, having coffee, and chatting up a storm in Deland, Florida (KDED) at the Deland Sport Aviation Showcase.
And on Jan. 23-26, 2019, I’m planning on spending some quality time with anyone who will hang out with me at the US Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida.
In between those events I’ll be wandering all over the landscape conducting AOPA’s Rusty Pilot seminars, teaching folks how to form and operate flying clubs, talking to high school and college students about aviation as a hobby or a career, and maybe even stopping in to a flight school or two just to relive the old days and share a thing or two I’ve learned along the way.
When you get right down to it, the thing that really makes aviation sing is us. So come see me. I’m looking forward to the day when you wander up and say, “Hey, I was hoping I’d bump into you here.”