Tag Archives: flying club

The Flight Instructor Who Gave Selflessly

Guest Post: By Stephen Hopson

Today I was going to write about the success of the “Flight to Hartford” project with my church (you can find it listed under my name) and tie it into the universal laws of attraction and giving. But something else came up, taking priority.

I just learned that a man who helped me make my dreams of becoming a pilot seven years ago recently passed away. While I understand most of you didn’t know him, I want to share the story of how we met and the incredible impact he had on my life. I believe and hope you’ll be touched even if you’re not a pilot yourself.

We could all learn how to give selflessly like he did. I don’t know whether or not he was aware of the universal laws of attraction and giving but he was sure a good model for someone who did.

Here’s the story.

Right around the turn of the 21st century, I was still in the process of building my speaking and writing career so I was looking for a part-time job to pay the bills in between professional speaking engagements.

It was also at this time when I was already a month or two into flight training but my original instructor was offered a new job in Colorado so I was forced to find a replacement elsewhere.

One day, I had an inspiration to visit other airports to see if I could get a job at a place where they taught people how to fly. I thought, “Why not? Might as well shoot two birds with one stone.”

After visiting one or two and being told nothing was available, I decided to venture a little further out and try Oakland Troy airport, a 30 minute drive from my home.

It was nestled among a fast growing metropolitan area (Troy, Michigan, USA) complete with a new strip mall, new apartments, a giant Wal-Mart and an assortment of other industrial buildings. The only area with open space was a small golf course nearby. The airport was big enough to accommodate corporate jets yet small enough not to require an air traffic control tower.

Pulling onto the newly repaved airport parking lot, I noticed a small circular white terminal building up ahead.

“That must be where I can find the personnel department,” I thought.

Upon setting foot inside, I was surprised to see only a couple of people milling about, drinking coffee and reading the paper. A jovial looking man with rosy cheeks was pouring himself a steaming hot cup of coffee.

Seeing that I was a new face in the place, he set his coffee down and came barreling toward me at 800 mph with an outstretched hand. It startled the heck out of me.

After regaining my composure, I made the mistake of accepting his bone-crushing handshake, causing me to wince in pain.

Trying to hide my pained expression, I said, “Hi, my name is Stephen Hopson and I’m looking for the personnel department.”

“And I’m Don Solms,” he boomed. He was still pumping my now lifeless hand.

Finally releasing his grip, he said, “Oh, you want a job here?” His face brightened even more, if that were possible.

“Yes, do you know of any openings?” I was massaging my fatally injured hand, opening and closing it repeatedly.

“I think they might be looking for someone. HEY, let me take you over to the other building to Susan’s office. She’s the personnel director. COME ON!”

Just before going in her office, Don thrust his business card in my hand and said cheerfully, “Good luck. Shoot me an email later. You’ll have to come over to my hangar where I keep my plane. Okay?”

Keeping both hands within the safety confines of my pockets, I said, “Thanks Don.” I could tell he wanted another hand shake. Fat chance buddy!

Susan then introduced me to two guys named Carl Barnes and Jason Zimmerman. They were both young men who were in charge running flight services. The interview went well and I ended up being hired. As a line service rep, I would be responsible for fueling and towing airplanes, among other things. It marked the beginning of an incredible 4 years at that airport.

One day, Don was hanging out at his hangar where he kept his prized Skylane. It was sunny and breezy. His hangar door was wide open, allowing cool air to swirl around inside. It was an open invitation to anyone who happened to come by. Spotting me in the fuel truck (I was motoring my way back to the terminal after fueling a customer’s plane), he waved me in and offered me a cold soda.

Ten minutes into the conversation, my dreams of becoming a pilot somehow surfaced. I told him that I was actually looking for a new instructor and was trying to save up some money to resume flight training.

Before he could respond, my vibrating pager distracted me with a new text message. There was another fuel order and I had to get going.

“Don, I’ve gotta go – they are telling me to fuel another airplane. See ya later!”

As I got up to leave, he grabbed my arm and gave it a powerful squeeze. My mind did a quick flashback to that day in the terminal. This time his eyes were sparkling like stars. And he was grinning stupidly.

I was in no way prepared for what he was about to say next.

“I would be honored to be your flight instructor and I won’t charge you for my time. All you’d be responsible for is the cost of renting an airplane.”

My God, an angel was in my midst and I knew it.

Absentmindedly rubbing my arms to stem the tide of goose bumps that was spreading like wildfire all over my body, I said, “Wow, really? Thanks man!”

Then he turned serious for a moment and said, “When are you free for your first lesson?”

Thrown off balance since I didn’t expect it to happen so soon, I said, “Well, how about tomorrow?”

“Okay, you got it! ” he thundered. Then he winked as if he were saying, “our secret.”

The rest was history. He was true to his word. Months of flight training with this man proved to be quite an adventure.

He was best known as a jokester, even in the cockpit. Now you have to picture this in your mind. There we were, me, a deaf student pilot and him, a 250 pound flight instructor with a large football frame who liked to poke his elbow at me every time he made a joke. And get this…he thought everything he said was funny!

Ouch!

Aside from his wry sense humor, he was one of the most patient flight instructors I would ever have. Every time we got ready for a lesson, he’d explain in the classroom what we were going to do and then we’d go up and fly.

If he wanted to explain something while we were flying, he’d take control of the airplane while I read his lips and then we’d resume the lesson. Don was one of those rare flight instructors who did not care about building flight time for a future career with the airlines. He was in it for the long haul. In fact, it wasn’t until after 50 plus years of flying and instructing that he finally hung up his wings last year.

He truly enjoyed the fine art of teaching and it showed. He never yelled at his students like some flight instructors who think they are drill sergeants with big egos. His students were his prized possessions and he treated all of them with the respect they deserved.

On December 3, 2000 Don had one big surprise up his sleeve. It was a calm, sunny day. We were scheduled to do some practice takeoffs and landings. After doing three of them, he instructed me to taxi over to the ramp by the white terminal building where I first met him months earlier.

Trying to hide his delight, he said, “Let me see your logbook for a sec.”

Arching my right arm as far back as I could behind the front seats, I snatched the logbook out of my bulging black flight bag and gave it to him.

Suddenly it dawned on me that today was “the day.” He was going to sign me off for my first solo flight!

I felt an involuntary shudder.

After scribbling his signature, he turned and looked at me. His brown eyes were sparkling again. The smile was even bigger than before. He was absolutely giddy, like a child on Christmas morning.

“So Mr. Hopson, are you ready?” he thundered.

“Yes, Don, get the hell out!” I thundered back, half joking.

Roaring like a lion, Don heaved his 250 pound football frame out of the airplane, closed and locked the door with a loud click. Then he did something that forever burned in my mind.

Like a five-star general sending his young fighter pilots off to war, he gave me a smart salute!

I almost burst to tears. It was deeply touching. No one ever did that to me before. Despite being more than ready to solo, I still felt a touch of trepidation so I returned the favor with a slightly shaky hand. Thank God he was too far away to see that.

Taxiing into position on the runway, I took a deep breath and firewalled the throttle causing the airplane to literally leap into the air. I remember thinking, “so this is what everyone means when they say the plane will bounce into the air without your instructor!”

Within seconds after takeoff, all the training kicked in and it was just another exercise around the airport pattern. The only difference was…well, I was alone.

After three takeoffs and landings, the venerable flight instructor waved me over and gave the signal to cut the engine. He stood there like a proud papa and motioned for me to go over to where he was standing. Instead of shaking my hand, he wrapped his huge arms around me and gave me a bone crushing hug. But, hey, I didn’t mind.

Five months later, one day short of my birthday, he finally signed me off to take my pilot certification flight test (i.e. “checkride”) with Mary Carpenter, one of the toughest but fairest FAA examiners from the area. He and Terry Ryan (his airplane co-owner at the time), both accompanied me on the flight to Pontiac airport, a mere 10 minutes away where the examiner’s office was located. He wanted to be there when Mrs. Carpenter and I were done with the checkride.

Two hours later, the examiner walked briskly into the waiting area, smiled and said, “Congratulations, Stephen passed with flying colors!”

Don roared his approval.

We all went out to have our pictures taken by the airplane and that’s when he said to me, “I’ll sit in the back seat on the return flight. Congratulations Mr. Pilot in Command!”

It was the greatest, grandest gesture another human being could ever have bestowed upon me. I’ll never forget it. He was that kind of man. Don believed in me so much that he was literally the only person at that airport who believed I would one day become the world’s first deaf instrument rated pilot.

Six years later, I did it, defying every naysayer in the aviation business. In February 06, I became the world’s first deaf instrument rated pilot. For that I salute Don Solms for believing in me.

Here’s to you Don!

Food for thought: Have you considered the power of the law of giving and helped make someone else’s dream come true this week?

Profoundly deaf since birth, Stephen Hopson is a former award-winning stockbroker turned motivational speaker, author and pilot. He works with organizations that are ready to explore and overcome adversity because no one is immune from it – adversity does not discriminate. His professional speaking services, Obstacle Illusions, include fun and passionate presentations, especially the story of how his fifth grade teacher forever changed his young life with THAT’S RIGHT STEPHEN!

You can view his newly re-designed website at http://www.sjhopson.com.

Stephen also maintains a blog called “Adversity University

How to Become a Pilot in the United States

Guest Post by Thomas F. Sullivan

There are many reasons to gain a Private Pilot License, also called a Private Pilot Certificate. The three main reasons are for recreation, business, or a stepping stone to the Commercial Pilot License. While many pilots in the United States get their flight training through the military, here we provide the steps needed to become a pilot by training at one of the many flight schools in America. Lets take a look at the steps which are needed in order to become a certified Private Pilot.

  1. The first step is a psychological step. You need to make sure you are in the proper mind set and have the proper attitude to learn how to fly. This means you should have a very good reason, at least for yourself, in terms of why you want to become a pilot. And a perfunctory reason will not work. The reason for this is because it takes unadulterated commitment on your part in order to gain a Private Pilot License.
  2. Along the lines of commitment, you will need to set aside a large chunk of time weekly for learning how to fly. You could just train on the weekend, but the draw back to this method is that learning to fly could take a long time, a very long time. Therefore, if possible, try to fly every good weather day, and therefore set aside time daily for flight training. It is very important you understand that the closer your lessons are to each other, the less money you will spend in the end. The national average in terms of the flying hours needed to obtain the Private Pilot License is 65 – 70 hours.
  3. Plan on spending around $8,000.00 USD to obtain the Private Pilot License. This includes instructor fee, cost to rent airplane, exams, books, and equipment. Some sources put the cost at about $7,000.00 USD. Again, the more frequently you fly, the lower the end cost will be. Assuming you are average in terms of number of flying hours needed (65 – 70 hours), plan on spending $7,000.00 to $8,000.00 USD.
  4. After you have decided that you truly want to gain a Private Pilot License, you understand the time needed, and you have worked out the financial aspect, you then can start to think about selecting the right flight school. When selecting a flight school, visit every flight school that is within a reasonable driving distance to where you live. The following two steps will help in your selection of a flight school.
  5. You need to decide if you want to become a tri-gear or conventional gear (tail wheel) pilot, or both. Do you want to take your check ride in a conventional gear airplane, or a tri-gear airplane. Today, most pilots take their check ride in a tri-gear airplane. But it should be noted that you will be a more proficient and a safer pilot if you are able to fly more then one type of airplane. This diversity includes being able to fly both tri-gear and conventional gear aircraft.Today, most pilots prefer to stick with a tri-gear airplane from start to finish, when getting their Private Pilot License. Select a flight school which provides both tri-gear and conventional gear aircraft for you to rent, so that you are able to fly both of these types of airplanes.You can train and take your check ride in a tri gear airplane, and later after you obtain your Private Pilot License, get a tail wheel endorsement. No matter how you slice it, the more different types of airplanes you can get checked out in and fly well, the safer you will be as a pilot.
  6. Also, in terms of flight school selection, you need to decide if you want to learn to fly at a FAR Part 141 school, or a FAR Part 61 school. In the United States, flight schools are required to operate under one of these two sets of rules, as laid down by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). One is really not any better then the other. Flight schools which operate under FAR Part 141 provide a more formal curriculum, with slightly fewer hours required for certification, and flight schools which operate under FAR Part 61 are less formal, and hours needed for certification are a little bit more.But since the hours needed in order to obtain the Private Pilot License almost always is much more then the required hours for certification (65-70 hours is the national average), there is really no advantage to learning at a FAR Part 141 school. Your decision in terms of FAR Part 141, and FAR Part 61, should really be dependent on the type of learning environment you prefer. Some students do better in a more formal environment, while others prefer a more laid back, less formal environment.
  7. After selecting a flight school, you then need to select an instructor. Select an instructor you feel comfortable with, both in terms of personality and flying experience. There are basically two types of instructors in the United States. One type is trying to build flying hours and has a desire to move on beyond instruction to a commercial flying job which is more lucrative. The other type of instructor is a career instructor who prefers to instruct, and is not really flying to build hours, but enjoys teaching new students. Career instructors on average tend to be older then hour building instructors. In terms of these two types of instructors, one is really not any better then the other, and selecting an instructor you believe you are compatible with is what really is important. You need to have a professional learning situation, where personality incompatibility will not interfere with the process of becoming a pilot. Selecting the right instructor is probably the most important component in learning how to fly.
  8. Finally, for most areas of the United States, plan on starting the learning process at the beginning of the summer. You need to have plenty of good flying weather in front of you before you start. If you start in the fall, you may end up having to stop due to bad weather and may need to wait until the spring to continue, which means more time and money. Plan on getting the job done within a few months in the summer. This holds true for most areas of the country, but not all. Of course, if you are learning to fly in the Southwest or Florida, then when you start is really not a factor.

So there you have it. The steps you need to take in order to become a Private Pilot. The most important considerations are proper mind set and attitude, commitment of time and money, type of airplane you want to fly, and finally flight school and instructor selection.

To quote Leonardo da Vinci:

“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return”

If you follow these steps, you can experience what only Leonardo da Vinci could only dream of, the archetypal dream of flight.

Thomas Sullivan, the author of this article, is a web developer and publisher who resides within the Boston, MA area. He is a Private Pilot, the creator of Intellego Web Publishing, and the creator and webmaster for Pilot Portal USA and Pilot Jobs.

5 Questions you should ask yourself before starting Flight Training

Have you been thinking about learning to fly an airplane? Or have you thought about it in the past? How about, have you ever dreamed about piloting an airplane? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then go ahead and read on.

Learning to fly an airplane is fun, easy, and a mission possible in most people’s case. Here, read the questions below that you should ask yourself if you ever considered learning to fly or getting yourself a pilot’s certificate.

1. Motivation – What do I need to learn how to fly for; pleasure, business or as a career?

2. Location –Where should I go get my flight training done?

3. Source – What type of flight training provider would be best for me?

4. Scheduling – Full time, part time, formal or informal, what type of scheduling would work the best for me?

5. Financial – How am I going to pay for my training? Would I need financial aid, student loan, personal loan, or some other type of financial assistance?

The reason you should ask these questions to yourself is because it helps you chose the right program, and also helps you understand the budgets and time / effort commitment required. I’ll give you some ballpark numbers here to think about:

If you want to learn how to fly for pleasure, you are looking at about a total of 60-70 hours of flight training time, and about 40-50 hours of ground studies, and to get the best bang for the buck, you should expect about 10-12 hours of training time per week. If it is for pleasure, then you really can simply take the training at your own convenience, or go to one of those vacation / accelerated training places with or without your family. Cost of the training will depend on many variables, like when, where and which aircraft. But for most people, you are looking at about $6000 to $10,000 price range. Of course, there are ways to make it cheaper as well as luxurious and high end as well.

For business reasons, the basic training as above is still required, but what changes is the motivating factor, and possibly some tax advantages, both for training and then actually renting / owning an aircraft and the related cost factors (operating expenses).

As a career? Well, now that is a very detailed topic, I can write a few books on it. Write me an email for any specific questions, and subscribe to this blog (RSS Feed). I write about all this here just about everyday. So read and educate yourself. Here, read these 2 posts for starters: Top 20 Career Options as a Pilot, and 101 General Aviation and Flight Training Scholarships.

Where to get your flight training? Options could be: a local flight training school, a flying club, an independent flight instructor (or CFI as we call them), a pilot flight instructor friend, a vacation / accelerated flight training gig, formal accredited flight training institutes, military academies, aviation college or university program, and so on.

Flying Club vs Flight School

If you spend long enough time in general aviation, especially in teaching environment, you are definitely going to hear these two terms above. And if you are thinking about learning how to fly, then you are probably wondering what is the diference between a flying club and a flight school anyways. Well, we will nail this issue here in this post once and for all!

Flying Club: A flying club, just like the name itself, is in fact a club. A flying club could be a private non-profit organization, a for-profit organization, a government or semi-government run organization, or many other unique setups. Typically, a flying club will have members consisting of the following:

  • Aircraft owners
  • Aircaft users/renters
  • Pilots – student pilots, private pilots, commercial pilots, and above
  • Flight Instructors

A flying club also has it’s management, i.e. general manager, president, mechanics, accounting people etc. The basics of a flying club setup is that aircraft owners lease their aircraft to the club, and then rent from the club itself whenever they need to use the aircraft. They can not only rent their own aircraft, but any other aircraft that is available to the members of the club. This increases their selection of the aircraft available to them. The cost of aircraft ownership/operation is subsidized by letting other nn-owner member pilots to rent and fly the club aircraft. The non-owner members pay for the aircraft rental, and most of the times, some sort of membership fee as well. The club aircraft get better rates for insurance, fuel etc as now they are a bulk customer and not individual aircraft. I hope you get the idea of this cost savings, not only for the aircraft owners but also for other renters as well.

Now, there are flight instructor members as well in the club. They make their services available to club members, of course for a fee. If a new member wants to join the club, he or she will definitely need some training. Whether it is training to get a pilot certificate, or just an insurance checkout, the flight instructors (CFI) do the job. And this is how they mak their living, or in most cases, get paid to enjoy and share the love of aviation.

Flight School: A flight school is a business involved in training people how to fly. This is what they do, and this is their expertise. They are usually owned by someone, has a chief flight instructor, and employed flight instructors and other professionals. The flight schools also rent aircraft (in most cases) to renters. Flight schools are usually designed and operated as any other school – i.e. imagine your high school. From the school principal all the way down to the housekeeping staff.