“Keep Your Dream Alive”

485515_10153054943128741_8149624170005865054_nWhen I started professional flight training back in the summer of 2000, I had dreams of leaving corporate America behind and moving from the cubicle world to controls of a jet aircraft.  I wanted to walk away from the flourescent lights, boring meetings, high anxiety “dog-eat-dog” mentality, and pursue another way of being. I had dreamed of being a professional pilot from a very young age, but life seemed to divert me from that dream.  Now the time was right, and after months of study, training, and multiple check rides, I finally achieved my dream, and  I was a Certified Flight Instructor and a Commercial Pilot.  I was now licensed to share the joy of aviation with others and better yet, to earn a living as I did so.


What I soon learned was that flight instructors are just like every other professional educator-we love what we do and we teach with passion and commitment, but we rarely earn enough to eke out a living.  Flight instructors work long hours and the stress of flight instructing can be intense.  The salary levels associated with this career trek are modest at best, and without at least a couple hundred hours of multi-engine time (at least back then) it was tough to get into the “better paying” career paths.  Those 1930296_21635213740_7093_nflying job opportunities, where one might fly checks for a freight company, get lucky enough to snag a right seat position as a Part 91 first officer in a King Air, or possibly get recruited into the airline pool existed back then, but God had another plan for me.

Fortunately I guess, several things got in the way of my career path as a professional aviator, but I am truly glad it did.  The events of September 11th had an impact on aviation as a whole and the industry struggled for a while.  Financially, I could not survive on the flight instructor’s salary.   Lastly, I could not afford to finish up my multi-engine instructor rating, which would have allowed me to build enough multi-engine time to find the “right job.”


Then, there was God’s call on my life to serve in leadership in God’s church.  I believe that all along, God was leading and directing me to where I am today.  All of life is about the path we are on, the journey of enlightenment, education, and sanctification.  My experience of teaching others to fly through the science and mystery of aeronautics, inspires me and informs  how I  teach others “to fly” by the sheer mystery of God’s Spirit moving in their lives.


I teach aviation and fly now, not as a means to a financial end, or even as a chosen career path.   I fly today to relax, to experience the pure joy of sharing aviation with others, and to enjoy the amazing beauty of God’s creation from those lofty heights.  My dream of being a pilot has never died, but it has
taken a different path, a rather joyful unexpected path.


I was speaking with one of our youth from church, during the coffee hour the other day, and he shared with me that he had a dream of playing professional baseball.  I looked at him and smiled and said, “Never let your dream die, always pursue it, and you will find joy.  It may not look like you had planned, it may not take the well-worn path to an end, but in the end, if you stay true to your dreams and God’s will for your life, your dreams will lead you to joy.”



CFI – Certified Flight Instructor: 10/1/2000

cfiTeaching someone else how to do something hearkens back to the days of Master Craftsmen and their Apprentices.  The days when the skilled and experienced artisan passed on their knowledge and training onto a junior aspirant, and it has its roots in religious systems as well.  To pass on a skill, a concept, or a way of being, to share with someone else a passion you possess, is a blessing, a gift, a purpose. I believe each of us in some way possess the gifts of teaching, but I know throughout my secular, aviation, and now priestly vocations, teaching is something I think defines me.

cfi3On October 1, 2000, I completed one of the most difficult FAA aviation checkrides.  That checkride included a lengthy oral exam in which the examiner quizzed me on the Federal Aviation Regulations, the complicated concepts of aerodynamics,  the many logbook endorsement requirements for students, and any other topic he wished to discuss.  Later, I spent nearly two hours in the aircraft teaching the examiner every maneuver for each pilot certificate (private, commercial, and instrument rating), along with more oral questions.  At the end of the examination, and as we were taxing back to the ramp, the examiner looked at me and said something so profound, “Eric, today you are a CFI (Certified Flight Instructor), congratulations.”  He continued, “Today, you begin learning how to become a better pilot yourself.  Let your students teach you how to become a better pilot, as you teach them to become a pilot.”

cfi2I believe that teachers learn more about their subject or skill, when they teach others.  I think we clergy also learn more about our sacred vocation, by those things God’s people teaches we priests.  Teachers are not mere purveyors of concepts, statistics, quotes, and ideas.  Teachers are relationship builders through which, both student and teacher learn together.  I give thanks to my flight instructors over the years who taught me to be a better person:  Evelyn Bryan Johnson, Beth Ford (Lennarz), Mike Figard, Paul Scott (also my first student).  Thank you for not only being a teacher to me, but for giving me the gift of friendship.



“Flying down memory lane.”

paul ericRecently, I had the joy of receiving a rental checkout from my first private pilot student.  He now flies corporate jets as a Captain, and he probably has over 8,000 hours.  It was an incredible experience to fly again with my dear friend Paul Scott.  The best part was the  time we had before and after the flight, to reminisce about our old flying days together at Naples airport, to remember old friends, and to learn where they are today.  It has been 18 years since I gave Paul his first introductory lesson in an old Cessna 172.

For my checkout with Paul, we flew an old C172M model, which felt underpowered and sluggish compared to the Cessna 182’s and C172SP’s I have been flying.  It probably felt like flying a brick compared to the Phenom’s and Beech-jets Paul flies now as a Captain.  Nonetheless, it was an incredible day with my dear old friend Paul.  With our move to the Naples area, I will be close to my old friend again, and I hope this will not be the last time we fly together, and I am convinced it will not be the last.

What a joy it is to share the joy of aviation with friends.   Paul reminded me during our flight that I had taught him to put the ignition keys on the dash, so, as we were pre-flighting the aircraft, we would know the keys were not in the ignition switch as we walked around the propeller.  He reminded me of the other little lessons or “isms” I taught him nearly 20 years ago, lessons that he teaches even today.   It is a gift to know that in some way, you had a part in helping someone achieve their life-long dream, and to help a flight student learn the basics of flying. In Paul’s case, he has carried into his professional flying, many of those little disciplines that I taught him back in the day.   I imagine he is passing on some of those lessons to other pilots as well.  Thank you Paul for a wonderful blessing the other day.



“Pushing the Envelope …”

“Pushing the Envelope …”      24 February 2018  

Commercial Pilot           The training for the Commercial Pilot Certificate includes a great deal of study, and many hours of cross-country flying (mentioned in my last blog), but it also includes practical training that allows the pilot to demonstrate some key performance maneuvers. According to FAR 91.303, it defines “aerobatic flight as an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft’s attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight.” The commercial flight maneuvers, which although takes the airplane to the edges of flight performance and in a general sense, seems like abrupt and abnormal, they do not meet the criteria of being aerobatic flight.

Nonetheless, the pilot who can demonstrate within tolerances of speed, altitude, and heading, all while maintaining constant vigilance outside and inside the cockpit will have shown the examiner that they have mastered a higher level of flight proficiency and aircraft control. Without spending time discussing the technical aspects of each of these maneuvers, I want to specifically share with you my struggles with learning how to fly two of the maneuvers. If you are interested in the technical aspects of “Eights on Pylons” and “180 degree Spirals,” there are hundreds of Yo
uTube videos, and thousands of articles available that provide that kind of insight.


I want to share with you how after struggling to learn how to fly these maneuvers, I eventually I mastered the “Chandelles” and “Lazy Eights.” The chandelle is an aircraft control maneuver where the pilot combines a 180° turn with a climb. The history of the Chandelle comes out of the days of early dogfighting. French aviators during World War I described it as monter en chandelle, or “to climb vertically”.  It was used with success by Japanese Zero pilots of the Tainan Air Group in 1942 over New Guinea.  It was a maneuver in combat that allowed a pilot to either escape a pursuer (if their climb performance was better) or engage an enemy who was approaching at a higher altitude.

The difficulty with this maneuver lies in the use of precise and consistent bank control, establishing maximum pitch and climb rate, while maintaining sufficient rudder input to counteract the increased left turning tendencies of the aircraft at increased pitch and full power. All the while, the pilot is trying to achieve maximum climb rate by taking the aircraft just above stall speed at the 180 degree turn point. Each time I tried this maneuver in practice, I either failed to enter the maneuver with smooth bank application, or forgot the rudder input, or did not maintain sufficient pitch to maximize the climb rate, or I failed to keep my head out of the cockpit to maintain visual clearance. These are normal mistakes for this maneuver, but for some reason I was struggling to pull it all together. Eventually, with some practice, I was able to master “walking and chewing bubble gum” at the same time or better yet, I was able to apply smooth and accurate bank attitude, while entering the climb at a sufficient angle, while keeping sufficient and proper rudder input, and looking outside for traffic.

Lazy 8's

My next challenge was the maneuver called “Lazy 8’s.” The FAA describes this maneuver as “a maneuver that is designed to develop the proper coordination of the flight controls across a wide range of airspeeds and attitudes. It is the only standard flight training maneuver that, at no time, flight control pressures are constant. The lazy eight can be loosely described by the ground reference maneuver, S-turns across the road. Recall that S-turns across the road are made of opposing 180° turns. For example, first a 180° turn to the right, followed immediately by a 180° turn to the left. The lazy eight adds both a climb and descent to each 180° segment. The first 90° is a climb; the second 90° is a descent.” So, from the description you might think that this was an easy maneuver to execute, but it was far from that. Imagine trying to fly across a road using visual references, while maintaining constant pitch and bank changes. This maneuver is fluid and shifting with precision and grace. Imagine two ballroom dancers smoothly moving symmetrically across the dance floor and you will get an idea of how the “Lazy 8” should feel.

First, the pilot selects a long road over which the maneuver can be executed and enters the maneuver perpendicular to the road, and at a pre-determined altitude. Next, she/he identifies the location of three visual references at the 45°, 90°, and 135° points. The pilot begins the maneuver by entering a smooth bank to 15° with a smooth application of pitch to maximum pitch at the 45° point. The pilot continues the climb to maximum bank of 30° and maximum altitude gain at the 90° point, and simultaneously reduces pitch and bank to maximum pitch down and 15° bank at the 135° reference point. As the pilot crosses back over the road, she/he should be at the same altitude at which the maneuver began, with wings level, and at level flight. Without stopping the maneuver, the pilot continues the same dance in the opposite direction, all while maintaining smooth pitch/bank application and maintaining outside visual traffic clearance. Sounds like it is a difficult maneuver right? It is! However, with practice, it can be one of the most incredible demonstrations of the precision and skill of a pilot.

My problem with this maneuver early on was my inability to identify really good ground references at the 45°, 90°, and 135° points. So, my instructor made me create a mental checklist before I began the maneuver. First, set power for maneuver speed and maintain. Second, identify altitude at which the maneuver would begin and end. Third, select the three ground references and be clear about where they are located. Next, smoothly and consistently execute the maneuver like you were dancing with your wife on the dance floor. Eventually, this memorized checklist and the visual reference of dancing helped me to master this incredibly difficult, but absolutely skill challenging flight maneuver.

commercial pilot            In time, I was able to pass the incredibly difficult commercial written exam, master each of the commercial flight maneuvers, and become familiar enough with the complex airplane in which I took my check ride, which I did pass on the first attempt. It was an incredible feeling to have the examiner hand me the Temporary Airman’s Certificate that read “Commercial Pilot, Single Engine, Land, Instrument,” which I carry with pride in my wallet today. Even so, there was an even more difficult task ahead and the training, study, and efforts I put into this next accomplishment would have an impact on my flying career, even to this day. Endless hours of study of the FAA regulations, performance standards, certificate and training requirements, and endorsement stipulations were all just a small part of what it takes to earn a Certified Flight Instructor Certificate. I had to learn to fly the airplane to commercial standards and demonstrate all of the maneuvers I learned, all from the right seat, while teaching and flying said maneuvers. In my next blog, I will share with you the frustrations, challenges, and successes I had training for my CFI check ride. More later …



“Show me the Money” – Commercial Pilot Training

tshirt            Soon after obtaining my instrument rating, my instructor Beth and I started training for my commercial pilot certificate check ride. Hours of study on regulations, weather, commercial operations, and aircraft systems resulted in my passing of the Commercial Pilot written exam. Speaking of regulations, it may be helpful to understand what FAA privileges and limitations exist for a commercial pilot.

According to Federal Aviation Regulation Part 61.133, a person who holds a commercial pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying persons or property for compensation or hire, provided the person is qualified in accordance with this part and with the applicable parts of this chapter that apply to the operation. You might think the before-mentioned legal lingo allows the bearer of a commercial pilot certificate to just put himself or herself out for hire, and fly anything and anyone, anywhere. However, there are other parts of the regulations that stipulate additional requirements for air carrier operators so, the commercial pilot certificate alone has its limitations. The holder of the certificate is allowed to conduct (within aircraft and additional certification requirements) the following operations: flight instruction, nonstop sightseeing flights, ferry or training flights, crop dusting, seeding, spraying, and bird chasing, banner towing, aerial photography or survey, fire fighting and power line or pipeline patrol, to name a few.

All that being said, before I could ferry aircraft, crop dust, banner tow, or fire fight (none of which I planned on doing), I had to complete a lot of training, and I had to meet the minimum hour requirements:

  1. 250 hours total flight time
  2. 50 hours of cross country
  3. 3 10 hours instrument training (already completed)
  4. 10 hours of training in a retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable pitch propeller or is turbine-powered
  5. One 2-hour cross country flight in a single engine in daytime conditions that consists of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure;
  6. One 2-hour cross country flight in a single engine airplane in nighttime conditions that consists of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure
  7. Ten hours of solo flight time in a single engine airplane: One cross-country flight of not less than 300 nautical miles total distance, with landings at a minimum of three points, one of which is a straight-line distance of at least 250 nautical miles, and 5 hours in night VFR conditions with 10 takeoffs and 10 landings (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower.

ttail            You may think that this training plan was intense and for the most part it was fairly challenging, but the areas of training where I spent quite a bit of time, included learning to fly a complex airplane, and learning how to demonstrate properly the commercial pilot flight maneuvers. First, we began my complex aircraft training in a T-tail PA28-200 Piper Arrow. This aircraft had a 200 horsepower engine, significantly more “growl under the cowl” than the 100 hp Cessna 152’s and 165 hp Cessna 172’s I had been flying. Also, the Arrow had a variable pitch/constant speed prop and retractable gear both of which, brought two new operational systems into each phase of flight.            prop-zoom-v2

First, the variable pitch/constant speed prop is just that; variable and constant.Constant speed propellers work operationally, by varying the pitch of the propeller blades. As the blade angle is increased, it produces more lift (thrust). At the same time, more torque is required to spin the prop, and the engine slows down. The opposite is true when the blade angle is decreased: the torque required is decreased, and the engine speeds up. At higher altitudes when the air becomes less dense, the pilot can improve the efficiency of the aircraft engine, by increasing the pitch of the prop, and maintain the RPM of the engine, in order to “take a bigger bite” out of the air. That way when the air is thin, increasing its pitch can increase the propeller’s efficiency. It may sound complex (no pun intended), but it allows the airplane to be more fuel efficient at different flight phases.

retract           The Arrow also had retractable landing gear. You can imagine that in the takeoff and landing phases of flight, there are a whole new series of checks and procedures related to retracting the gear (takeoff and cruise), and lowering the gear (hopefully before attempting a landing). Even so, as a commercial pilot candidate, I had to learn the intricate details of both of these systems, how they operate, how to troubleshoot in the event of a failure, and what to do if a gear failure occurred.   Landings were the critical phase of retractable gear operations and in this training I learned a new aviation acronym: “GUMP’s.   On final approach, once lined up on the centerline of the runway, my instructor taught me to call out and verify GUMP’s (GAS – fuel pump on, UNDERCARRIAGE – gear down and three green lights, MIXTURE- mixture control rich, PROP – constant speed prop forward, SEATBELTS/SWITCHES). It was a constant reminder to make sure we landed with gear down, and that the prop was set in case we had to execute a “go around.” In time, I was able to master (or at least feel comfortable) flying the Arrow, and I came to love flying this airplane nearly as much as I now love flying Cessna 172’s and 182’s.

IChandellen my next blog post, I will share with you the flight lessons that taught me to execute the commercial pilot flight maneuvers: Lazy 8’s, Chandelles, “180 degree spirals,” and “Eights on Pylons.”  It took some time, but I was able to learn these performance maneuvers well enough to take and pass my FAA check ride. More later.




“Snoozin’ and Cruisin’”: Crossing Florida in a Cessna 172

 During my professional flight training, I had to build up my total hours for the Commercial Pilot Certificate requirements. I also needed to build simulated instrument time, as I was working on my Instrument rating. So, it was necessary for me to fly several instrument cross countries with a “safety pilot.” I flew a few flights with another student at the school, who already had an instrument rating. One day we discussed and planned a 5-hour cross country that would take us from Naples to West Palm Beach, to Vero Beach, to Sarasota, and back to Naples. This flight would be all “under the hood” and each of us would fly a different leg of the journey.

The morning of the flight, I asked my daughter Erica, “Honey, would you like to see the East Coast of Florida today?” She was only 9 years old and with glee said, “Yes Daddy, that sounds great!” So, we drove to the airport and met my fellow student at the school. After a quick check of the weather, a thorough briefing and pre-flight, we were sitting on the ramp awaiting our clearance.

The takeoff was uneventful, and almost immediately, the tower advised us to contact departure control. The controller gave us further clearance to our assigned altitude and vectored us to intercept our filed route. It was a beautiful day in Southwest Florida. Over the headset, I was pointing out to Erica the many beautiful towns and lakes along the route. After about an hour of quiet, I asked Erica if she could see that little village off our right wing. “Erica, do you see that town?” I said. There was complete quiet over the intercom. “Erica, you ok,” I asked. Still quiet.

I turned around and my sweet daughter had taken a pillow, put it up against the window, and was fast asleep. The hum of the engine, the smoothness of the air, and serenity of the sky was just enough to put her fast asleep. I don’t believe Erica saw any of Florida that day, but she sure enjoyed a great rest. I have had the privilege of flying with my daughter and my wife Terri many times. It is a great joy to share this avocation with those you love. Many times, Terri and I have made little side trips to Key West and even Miami for the day. Maybe in one of my future posts, I will share one of those stories. In my next post, I will tell more about my Commercial Pilot Certificate training in beautiful sunny Florida. Stay tuned.


“Flying Blind” – Instrument Rating (Circa 2000)

            My father-in-law’s health began to decline in 1999, and my spouse I wrestled with the decision to move closer to him and his spouse, so Terri could spend time with her father before he died. That decision would require us to leave our careers, and embark on a new way of life. At the same time, I had been dreaming about the possibility of returning to aviation as my vocation. I had been doing quite a bit of flying in Alabama, and I had already started some cross-country and simulated instrument flying to prepare me for additional ratings.

So, we made the decision, left our jobs, sold our home and moved to Southwest Florida. Terri returned to store management when we arrived, and I found a flight school where I could begin my professional flight training. Prior to our move, Terri made a visit to Florida to see her dad and while there, she visited a local flight school to checkout their instructors and their airplanes.   Terri met one of the instructors from the U.K. named Beth, whom Terri immediately found to be friendly, positive, and knowledgeable. After that encounter, Terri called and said, “I have found your new flight school and flight instructor.”

            After my arrival in Florida, I visited the school and met Beth. She was as Terri described; positive, friendly, knowledgeable, and kind. We decided to begin working on basic instrument flying during our first lesson and we would utilize one of several IFR certified Cessna 152’s on the ramp. In no time, I had mastered the T-Scan, constant airspeed/constant rate climbs and descents, turns, timed turns, and partial panel.

           Later Beth taught be how to fly VOR, NDB, and ILS approaches with published holds. After lots of instrument practice, we decided to build some time toward my Commercial Pilot Certificate, which we would tackle next and thus, we flew several instrument cross country flights across Florida. During this time, I also was studying for and eventually passed my Instrument Written Exam, as well as learning as much as I could about the regulations, weather, and navigation.

           One month later, after flying nearly every day, I successfully passed my oral and practical check ride with the local FAA Designated Examiner. Nineteen years after I had soloed at age 16, I had earned an instrument rating. My spouse and daughter were very proud of me, and I too had a little pride in my accomplishment however, there was so much more training that was before me.

           The next lesson right after my instrument rating check ride, Beth said, “Let’s get to work on your commercial pilot certificate training.” “Next flight, we will start training in the Piper Arrow T-tail, so you I can give you your Complex Airplane endorsement.” In my next blog, I will share a little about my Commercial Pilot training, and few fun adventures flying throughout Florida.   Stay Tuned!


“Coming home” – USAF Aux./Civil Air Patrol (1999)

Parisian-at-Summit-for-Website-1-940x599            Nineteen years ago (1999), Terri and I left the Chicago suburbs and the buying offices of Sears Roebuck and Company, and moved to Birmingham, AL. This move came about, because we were offered and accepted buying positions with a large, growing, regional retail conglomerate. After we were settled in our new jobs and new home, I set out to find a local airport, where I could rent an airplane, and continue my aviation hobby. A quick trip down the road from our house, there was a great little airport with a 6000’ hard surfaced runway, and an FBO that rented Piper Warriors.

pa28         Now, most of my flight training and recent flight experience had been in Cessna 150’s, 152’s, and 172’s, and I had never been pilot in command of a low-wing Piper. After a thorough check out in one of the flight school’s PA-28’s, I was back in the air and enjoying flying with Teri in the beautiful skies of Alabama.   After a few cross-countries, and many takeoff and landing practices, I was ready for another challenge. While flying one evening, and as I walked back into the FBO, I saw several Civil Air Patrol cadets in uniform, mulling around and waiting for the meeting to start.

Alabama_Wing_Civil_Air_Patrol_logo            I spoke with the Squadron Commander who was present and I asked, “Would you welcome back a former Spaatz cadet to work with you all?” He beamed and said, “You’re kidding right, let’s get you some paperwork.” A few weeks later, after fingerprints, a completed application, and new uniforms, I was back in CAP active and serving as Aerospace Education officer in the squadron. What a joy it was to put on that uniform again, to be working with cadets again, and to be teaching something that I so enjoyed.

CaptainsHat            It was this experience that would eventually lead me begin dreaming about an aviation career again. It was the joy of teaching and sharing the art of flying again that would lead me to become a flight instructor. Within a few months, the squadron commander asked me to serve as Deputy Commander for Cadets, and I readily took on the task. I also began flying the CAP aircraft and eventually completed a Form 5 Check ride, which qualified me to serve as a Transport Mission Pilot.

Although, this experience of working with cadets, teaching, and flying deepened my love of aviation, and did eventually led me to become a professional teacher of flight, our short time in Birmingham was not the end of the story. In my next blog, I will share the story of an unexpected move to Naples, FL, the time spent with my wife’s father, and the time when my professional aviation training began.

Stay tuned,