That is the question I get a lot, when people ask me what I do for a living, especially after they find out that I don’t make any money doing this.
So, why do I own a flight school?
Well, as with any of my answers, it’s never short.
Some years ago, a former friend explained to me the meaning of “yarn” in this context. And he was right. Most of my answers become very long “yarns”. I promise I don’t do it on purpose. Some have said that I do it to discourage people from asking questions, but that is not the case.
After I learned to fly, I looked frantically for a place where I could rent a decent plane to fly an hour or two every once in a while. The college where I got my private pilot’s certificate only allowed their planes to be flown by their students and instructors, and I was no longer a student the moment I passed my checkride. I had graduated.
I drove as far as two hours to find airplanes that were probably fine, but the college had spoiled me in many different ways that I was barely beginning to understand.
Their airplanes were meticulously maintained under the strict supervision of Richard McGee, the director of maintenance.
The school was meticulously run under the very strict guidance of the Chief Flight Instructor, Mr. Chuck Perry.
As a result, all airplanes performed very similarly, and all pilots flew very similarly.
After many trips in all directions, I found a very nice FBO at the Las Cruces, New Mexico airport. Adventure Aviation (it no longer exists) had several airplanes, all very nice and perfectly maintained. It was a three hour drive either way, to go fly an airplane for an hour or two, but it was worth it.
In time, I became friends with the owner and the general manager. Somehow, over lunch or dinner at the Crosswinds Grill (their own little bistro, part of the FBO), the conversation one day veered towards me taking one of their airplanes back home, put it in a hangar and offer it for rent to local pilots. The allure for me was to have an airplane available for me to use, and at a discounted rate!
And that is how I made inroads into the business side of aviation. I posted flyers at the three local airports in the area and, sure enough, my phone started ringing.
Most of the time, the checkout of a new renter pilot would be done by one of the instructors from the college, but occasionally, none would be available and I had to do the checkout.
Before you go crazy, it is perfectly ok for a pilot to do the checkout of a fellow pilot, as long as we are fairly familiar with the airplane. Since I was already taking the necessary classes for CFI, I was not completely clueless about the process. Actually, as anybody who knows me will confirm, I’m pretty anal about the whole checkout thing (a future article tentatively titled “Perplexed” will clarify this further).
During the many times I had the privilege to fly with other pilots during the checkout process, I was able to witness many different styles and levels of expertise (or not). Some were very precise, and some were very sloppy. And most were somewhere in between.
Initially, I had to fight with all my might the urge to “teach” some of these pilots the “correct” way to fly (as I had been trained), but one day I had an epiphany: It is my responsibility to make sure that whoever rents and flies the airplane is safe and legal. It is not my job to teach them how to fly.
After I came to that conclusion, I accepted the fact that, as is the case when we take the road, there are excellent drivers and deplorable drivers, either on the roads or in the air.
One day, the airport manager where I rented the hangar, told me that he was a pilot and wanted to get checked out in our Cessna 172. I had written and printed checklists in the same style as the ones I used at the college.
As I was watching this gentleman go through the checklist and going from pre-flight to starting engine and climb, I came to realize that he flew just like me. He was following the same procedures as everybody at the college. Obviously, I asked if he had gone to the college for his training. No, but his instructor had also been an instructor at the college.
The seed was planted that day. I told myself that someday I would somewhat propagate our way of flying.
It starts with knowledge. The college taught on ground school much more than the bare minimum needed to get 71% on the FAA knowledge test. We consistently scored in the high 90s.
Next, checklist use is mandatory. Following procedures methodically makes smooth flying possible, and minimizes the possibility of errors and omissions.
Judgement and courtesy were also fomented and embedded in our way of flying. Situational awareness starts at the ramp, where we should be considerate and move away from other airplanes after engine start. There’s nothing more annoying than a guy starting his very noisy engine next to where I’m doing my pre-flight inspection, and stay there forever while doing god knows what.
This is what I want to achieve. I want to be proud of the people that learned to fly in our school. I want them to go out there and distinguish themselves as good pilots.
I want people to ask in admiration “where did you learn to fly?”: Nebraska Flight Center.