Tag Archives: health

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!


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 protect your Hearing in Aviation industry

  • Limiting duration of exposure to noise. OSHA established permissible noise exposure limits for the workplace (including the cockpit of an aircraft).
  • Use Hearing Protection Equipment. If the ambient noise level exceeds OSHA’s permissible noise exposure limits, you should use hearing protection devices—earplugs, earmuffs, communication headsets, or active noise reduction headsets. Even if an individual already has some level of permanent hearing loss, using hearing protection equipment should prevent further hearing damage. These protection devices attenuate noise waves before they reach the eardrum, and most of them are effective at reducing high-frequency noise levels above 1,000 Hz. It is very important to emphasize that the use of these devices does not interfere with speech communications during flight because they reduce high-frequency background noise, making speech signals clearer and more comprehensible.
  • Earplugs. Insertable-type earplugs offer a very popular, inexpensive, effective, and comfortable approach to provide hearing protection. To be effective, earplugs must be inserted properly to create an air-tight seal in the ear canal. The wax impregnated moldable polyurethane earplugs provide an effective universal fit for all users and provide 30 to 35 dB of noise protection across all frequency bands.
  • Communication headsets. In general, headsets provide the same level of noise attenuation as earmuffs, and are also more easily donned and removed that earplugs, but the microphone can interfere with the donning of an oxygen mask.
  • Active noise reduction headsets. This type of headset uses active noise reduction technology that allows the manipulation of sound and signal waves to reduce noise, improve signal-to-noise ratios, and enhance sound quality. Active noise reduction provides effective protection against low frequency noise. The electronic coupling of a low frequency noise wave with its exact mirror image cancels this noise.
  • Combinations of protection devices. The combination of earplugs with earmuffs or communication headsets is recommended when ambient noise levels are above 115dB. Earplugs, combined with active noise reduction headsets, provide the maximum level of individual hearing protection that can be achieved with current technology.

Medications and Flying

Does this story sound familiar?

It’s Sunday morning, the last day of a three-day trip. You have four hours of flying ahead of you to get back home, but something about the air conditioner last night has left you with stuffy nose and sinuses this morning. You know from your training and experience that flying with congested upper airways is not a good thing. As it turns out, one of the others on the trip has some new over-the-counter sinus pills that are “guaranteed” to unstop your breathing passages and let you fly without any worries about the congestion. Should you take the medication?

Another scenario

You and your spouse are on the second leg of a five-leg, cross-country flight. While visiting relatives, you stayed up late at the party they threw in your honor, ate too much, and the next morning your stomach feels sort of queasy. Your spouse, a non-pilot, offers you a common motion-sickness pill prescribed by her doctor. Should you take the medication?

Get the facts

Just like any other decision (equipment, weather, etc.) that you must make when you fly, you should know all the facts before you can answer this question. There are several things that you need to know and take into account before you make the go/no-go decision. Add these to your check list:

  • First, consider the underlying condition that you are treating. What will be the consequences if the medication doesn’t work or if it wears off before the flight is over? A good general rule to follow is not to fly if you must depend on the medication to keep the flight safe. In other words, if the untreated condition is one that would prevent safe flying, then you shouldn’t fly until the condition improves — whether you take the medication or not.
  • Second, you must consider your reaction to the medication. There are two broad categories of medication reactions. One is a unique reaction based on an individual’s biological make-up. Most people don’t have such reactions but anyone can, given the right medication. Because of this, you should NEVER fly after taking any medication that you have not taken before. It is not until after you have taken the medication that you will find out whether you have this uncommon and unexpected reaction to the medication.
  • Third, consider the potential for adverse reactions, or side effects — unwanted reactions to medications. This type of reaction is quite common, and the manufacturer of the medication lists these on the label. You MUST carefully read all labeling. If you don’t have access to the label, then don’t fly while using the medication.

Look for such key words such as light-headedness, dizziness, drowsiness, or visual disturbance. If these side effects are listed or if the label contains a warning about operating motor vehicles or machinery, then you should not fly while using the medication. Side effects can occur at any time, so even if you’ve taken the same medication in the past without experiencing side effects, they could still occur the next time. For this reason, you must never fly after taking a medication with any of the above-noted side effects.

If you must take over-the-counter medications,

  • Read and follow the label directions.
  • If the label warns of significant side effects, do not fly after taking the medication until at least two dosing intervals have passed. For example, if the directions say to take the medication every 6 hours, wait until at least 12 hours after the last dose to fly.
  • Remember that you should not fly if the underlying condition that you are treating would make you unsafe if the medication fails to work.
  • Never fly after taking a new medication for the first time.
  • As with alcohol, medications may impair your ability to fly—even though you feel fine.
  • If you have questions about a medication, ask your aviation medical examiner.
  • When in doubt, don’t fly.

Prescription Medications

When your treating physician prescribes a medication for you, be sure to ask about possible side effects and the safety of using the medication while flying. Since most of their patients are not pilots, many physicians don’t think about the special needs of pilots when they prescribe medication. You must also discuss the medical condition that is being treated. You may want to ask your physician to contact your aviation medical examiner to discuss the implications of flying with the medical condition and the medication.

When your pharmacy fills the prescription, let the pharmacist know that you are a pilot. Pharmacists are experts in medication side effects and can often provide advice that supplements the information that your physician gives you. The pharmacist will provide you with written information about your medication. You should treat this just like the label of an over-the-counter medication mentioned above. Read, understand, and follow the information and instructions that are given with the medication. Never hesitate to discuss possible problems with your physician, pharmacist, or aviation medical examiner.

The Bottom Line

What you must remember about medications


…you will develop a medical condition that is not safe to fly with. Whether you take a medication for the condition or not, you should wait to fly until the condition is either gone or significantly improved.

…you will have an ongoing (chronic) medical condition that your physician has prescribed a medication to treat. You should discuss the medical condition and treatment with your physician, pharmacist, and aviation medical examiner and make your flying decision based on their advice.

…you will have a medical condition that makes you uncomfortable but does not impair your ability to safely fly. If flying is very important, you may take either over-the-counter medications or prescription medications — within the guidelines suggested above.

Flying is important for many reasons. Not one of these reasons, however, is worth risking your life or the lives of those around you. Treat all medications with caution, and you’ll be around to become one of the “old” pilots.

MEDICAL FACTS FOR PILOTS Publication OK05-0005 Written by: Steve Carpenter, MD Prepared by: Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aerospace Medical Institute Aerospace Medical Education Division

Fit for Flight

Being Fit for Flight does not mean that you necessarily have to be a bodybuilder and all ripped with muscles, or a marathon runner. Looking ripped is probably more of a personal choice, but fit for flight is to stay in good shape. Anyways, looking ripped with muscles and a perfect looking body may have other benefits in the cockpit 🙂

The purpose of this brochure is to provide you with basic guidelines for developing a balanced physical fitness program and customizing a workout to fit your needs. We recommend that you consult a physician before starting any type of physical fitness program. Additionally, an exercise physiologist or professional
trainer can help you personalize a specific fitness program.

Benefits of Being Physically Fit

“Use it or lose it!” That old saying not only relates to certain flying skills but also to the human body. Muscles that aren’t used tend to atrophy and weaken. To keep muscles and the cardiovascular system working at their optimum levels, they must be stimulated and utilized. Being more physically fit will generally make you look and feel better. Additionally, people that carry too much weight or are bordering on obesity often encounter many health related problems, ranging from chronic backaches to advanced cardiovascular disease. Finally, a high level of personal fitness can help you to cope with the various emotional and physical stressors that are encountered in the flight environment.

Get a Physical

Before starting a physical fitness program, it is very important that you get a thorough physical examination. Make sure that you tell your medical professional of your intentions to start a fitness program and get some guidance. Also, it would be a good idea to consult with your AME (aviation medical examiner). These professionals can help to tailor a program that addresses the demands of the flight environment.

A Change in Lifestyle

Always keep in mind that becoming fit requires a lifestyle change: adjusting your diet, eating the appropriate types of food with ideal portions, deciding to walk a short trip rather than to drive it, taking the stairs instead of the elevator. These all require a different frame of mind and a change in your daily routine. That, in itself, can be a stressor. Your body will be tasking muscles and systems more than ever. With the accompanying muscle soreness and fatigue, many get discouraged and simply give up. Start out slow. Gradually increase the intensity of your program as your body adjusts to this new lifestyle. But…don’t quit!

Basic Components of a Fitness Program

An effective fitness program includes the following:

  • Warm-up
  • Flexibility and stretching
  • Aerobic conditioning
  • Anaerobic conditioning
  • Cool-down and stretching

The Warm-Up and Stretch

The warm-up is an essential part of your workout. It should be adjusted to meet the needs of the type of exercise you plan to perform. Warming your muscles gives the body a chance to deliver plenty of nutrient-rich blood to areas about to be exercised and lubricates the joints. The second part of the warm-up process
should include stretching. Its purpose is to increase and maintain muscle flexibility by increasing blood flow to the muscles. Stretching should never overextend the muscle or cause it to burn. With the increase in flexibility and range of movement, stretching decreases the risk of injury.

Aerobic (Cardio) Conditioning

Your workout should then involve an aerobic (better known as cardio) activity. Aerobic exercise is any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature. The exercise tasks the heart and lungs, causing them to work harder than when at rest. Some examples of aerobic activities:

  • Bicycling (on a stationary bike, if preferred)
  • Fitness walking (treadmill, if preferred)
  • Jumping rope
  • Running or jogging (treadmill, if preferred)
  • Stair climbing (or Stairmaster, if preferred)
  • Swimming
  • Organized sports like softball, basketball, volleyball, racquetball

Anaerobic (Resistance) Conditioning

The effectiveness of your workout would be greatly diminished if it didn’t include some type of anaerobic, or resistance training, as a basic component.

This type of training tasks a particular muscle or muscle group to increase its strength and/or tone. Exercises can be done by using free-weights, resistance machines, and resistance bands. While free-weights have the advantage of being the most effective, they also have the disadvantage of being less safe. Machines are inherently safer but are less effective. No matter which route you choose, you should always consult a Certified Fitness Professional for proper instruction on equipment use and customizing a “lifting program” tailored to your specific needs. Some examples of anaerobic exercise are:

  • Squat
  • Bench Press
  • Dead-lift
  • Bicep Curl
  • Triceps Extension
  • Military Press
  • Row

Cool-Down and Stretch

This is the finishing touch to your workout, a very important part of an overall workout because it keeps the body active, prevents the blood from pooling in your extremities, and flushes the muscles of lactic acid. The cool-down should be performed at a low intensity of effort, starting with the major muscle groups. Similar
to the start of our workout, the cool-down period should also involve stretching. A good cool-down with stretching also helps to limit muscle soreness later.

Nutritional Considerations

Proper nutrition, fluid intake, rest, and recuperation are important factors for any healthy lifestyle. As your exercise routine increases, these compone
nts become more important, as the body needs adequate supplies of these ingredients to function properly. Eating well-balanced meals helps to replenish the nutritional needs of muscles and aids in recuperating from your workouts. A well-balanced meal involves being aware of your intake—especially proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Most individuals involved in a moderate exercise lifestyle benefit from a diet consisting of meals that are 50-55% complex carbohydrates, 15–20% protein, and 25–35% fat. However, the carbohydrate and protein intake percentages should change, depending on the purpose of your exercise program. Dehydration is a problem for most people, especially when they begin a fitness program. Exercisers should drink more water than ever before to avoid fatigue and cramping. The average, sedentary person needs two to four quarts of water every 24 hours for normal functioning. Depending on the workout, the weather, and your physical condition, your water intake will need to be increased.

Your Exercise Program

  • Can be very simple or very complex in nature
  • Should fit your personal needs, lifestyle, and personality
  • Should start slowly and build as you adapt; the old sports adage, “no pain, no gain,” can be very harmful and should by replaced by “in all things, moderation.”

Just Do It!

Physical fitness is a proven component of a long and healthy life. Physical fitness can also prolong your aviation activities by helping you pass your flight physicals.
One again, being fit for flight is not the same as being all ripped with muscle and no fat. So just do it!

MEDICAL FACTS FOR PILOTS Publication No. AM-400/09/2 Written by: J.R. Brown Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aerospace Medical Institute

Physiological Training Classes for Pilots

If you are interested in taking a one-day aviation physiological training course with altitude chamber and vertigo demonstrations or a one-day survival course, learn about how to sign up for these courses that are offered at 14 locations across the U.S. by visiting this FAA Web site: www.faa.gov/pilots/training/airman_education/aerospace_physiology/index.cfm