My First Flight Lesson (circa 1980)


Words cannot capture the thrill I experienced on my first instructional flight with Evelyn Bryan Johnson. Before we ever left the ground, Evelyn taught me that safety was a fundamental aviation principal. “Eric, when we go up there in the air, we take a risk so, we must do all we can to insure the safety of our passengers, ouraircraft, and those on the ground around us,” she said as we walked toward the plane that first day.


“As we approach that airplane Eric, look at it from a distance for any obvious dents, missing parts, low tires, or anything that seems out of place,” Evelyn taught. When walked up to the doors of the airplane, Evelyn pulled out the Cessna 150’s Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) and she thoroughly reviewed the entire book with me. She turned to the Checklist Procedures section and proceeded to teach me how to “pre-flight” the aircraft.   “OK Eric, say out loud each item, then insure the item is verified,” She said. “Control Wheel Lock – Remove,” I called out. Then I removed the device from the yoke (steering control wheel) and placed it in the side pocket. “Ignition Switch – Off,” I said, and then I verified. Several minutes later, we had checked the tires, oil levels, fuel levels, and each control surface. We drained the fuel to insure there was no water present in the tanks. I had just completed my first pre-flight inspection.

c150 instrument panel

After a clumsy and flawed taxi to the runway, I was at the controls of this little airplane, sitting at the “Hold Short” line of Runway 23 at Morristown Municipal Airport. I was only 15 years old and ready to take to the air as a “student pilot.” Evelyn made our radio call, “Morristown Traffic, this is Cessna 5447 Bravo, taking off Runway 23.” With Evelyn’s assistance, I pushed the throttle forward slightly, and awkwardly used the rudder pedals and brakes to taxi into position, and then with Evelyn’s urging, I pushed the throttle all the way forward and we started to roll. Immediately Evelyn said, “Heels on the floor Eric.” That was Evelyn’s way of telling me to move my feet down off the brakes, and to use the rudder pedals only during the takeoff roll. “Call it out Eric, Airspeed is alive, Oil Pressure and Temperature in the Green, RPM’s full,” She instructed. These were additional safety callouts Evelyn taught me, which to this day, I use on every flight.

airspeed indicator

With her right hand on the yoke on her side of the plane, and my left hand on my yoke on my side and my other hand on the throttle (with Evelyn your hand had always better be on the throttle), we were rolling down the runway. As we approached 45-50 knots, Evelyn said, “Pull back gently on the yoke Eric, there you go, hold that, nice job.” We were flying! I was thrilled! I was a pilot. “See where the cowling is positioned over the horizon Eric, and notice on the artificial horizon where the little wings are above the white line?” she said. “Let’s use those two things as guides to maintain our climb attitude, and we will climb up to 3,000 feet,” she taught. “Three thousand feet was so high,” I thought.

“See where the cowling is positioned over the horizon Eric, and notice on the artificial horizon where the little wings are above the white line?” she said. “Let’s use those two things as guides to maintain our climb attitude, and we will climb up to 3,000 feet,” she taught. “Three thousand feet was so high,” I thought.

We eventually leveled off and Evelyn taught me to position the cowling of the nose of the aircraft, approximately three to four inches below the horizon, and to verify that I was not climbing or descending, by cross-checking it on the altimeter and vertical speed indicators. She also taught me to maintain a constant heading, by keeping the wings level, and at the same time, keeping the nose of the aircraft pointed at a consistent reference point on the ground, some distance ahead of us. “We then verify that we are maintaining a consistent heading using the Directional Gyro, Eric,” she reminded me.

Keeping my “head outside of the cockpit” was essential, and constantly scanning for traffic was a discipline Evelyn instilled in me from the beginning.  “As your eyes move in small increments across the sky from left to right, be vigilant for other aircraft Eric,” she said. Vigilance for other aircraft was a safety principal Evelyn lived by, one she taught me from day one, and one I teach my students every time we are in the aircraft.  Whether taxing, maneuvering in the air, or making a cross-country flight, scanning for other aircraft is always “safety first” in aviation.

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Eventually, the Hobbs meter indicated that our first flight was about to end and Evelyn inquired, “Let’s head back home; do you know where the airport is located Eric?” “No ma’am, I am a bit lost,” I said. “OK, where is the lake,” she asked. “Over there on our left,” I said proudly. “Good, now where is the main highway,” she inquired. “On our right,” I said. “OK, with the lake on our left and the main highway on our right, follow the road North,” she said. I exclaimed with glee, “There it is, there it is, I see it over there.!”

Evelyn grinned and said, “Good work Eric, now you know how to find the airport.” Eventually, we worked our way back to the traffic pattern, and Evelyn allowed me to keep my hand on the yoke and feet on the rudder pedals, even until we touched down and rolled off the runway. I never forgot that first lesson, and all she taught me on that first flight.  To this day, I still share some of that same knowledge with the students. After my first flight, I spent several more lessons going over the basics of flight:  how to turn the aircraft, initiate climbs and descents, execute climbing turns and descending turns, and we eventually explored slow flight, stalls, and traffic pattern flying.  My goodness, I was having so much fun!

In my next blog post, I will share with you some memories of the instructional flights that led up to my eventual “first solo flight” on 18 August 1981 (my 16th birthday).   I look forward to sharing that story with you in a few weeks.



“Stick and Rudder” – my first flight lesson

cropped-cropped-flying11.jpgThe sky was clear, the air was crisp, and the excitement of taking my first flight lesson had been stirring in me for days. I was nervous and yet, I could not wait to learn all I could about this new adventure. When Dad and I arrived at the airport, I had to wait for quite some time until my he finished his flying lesson, before I could take to the air. I sat in a large leather sofa that faced the huge console television, and thumbed through the plethora of aviation magazines sitting on the coffee table. The smell of coffee and cigarettes permeated the room. I overheard pilots nearby talking about their latest adventures of “blowing a tire on landing,” or “that terrible weather that nearly killed them.” For a young man, only 15 years old, these were tall tales of adventure and danger that stirred the anxiety and at the same time, drew me to this avocation even more.

Evelyn (my father’s flight instructor) and my Dad walked back into the airport office, sat down at a nearby table, and “de-briefed the lesson.” “Bud, on climbs, you need to apply a little more right rudder to counteract the left-turning tendencies of the aircraft,” Evelyn explained. “You did a fine job on your approach to landing, and I believe you may have the landings, pretty well under your belt,” she applauded. “Good job Bud,” she said. Wow, she was a good instructor. I was excited now and felt even more at ease about this new adventure.

Evelyn signed my father’s logbook, and then she looked at me and said, “Eric, I am Evelyn. Please call me Evelyn. “Are you ready to become a pilot,” she asked. Nervously, I said, “Yes, ma’am.” Evelyn instructed, “Alright then, let’s talk for a while, we’ll grab those cushions over there, and then I will show you how to pre-flight the airplane,” she smiled and spoke with a grin. “Cushions,” I thought. Why in the world, would we need cushions? I soon learned that as a young 15 year old, and even for my 70-year-old flight instructor, we were of a stature that required a little boost in the seat, in order to see over the cowling of the airplane. A skill, which I would soon learn was critical to becoming a pilot. Sometimes in our lives, we need a little boost.

You know, we all need someone to lift us up, so we can see the gift we are and the person only others see in us. Evelyn did just that for me, at a time when as a teen, I was so uncertain and discouraged.  She was so more than my flight instructor; she was my mentor, my teacher, and my friend. The cushions we took to the airplane reminded me that although my feet barely touched the rudder pedals, and my height could have been a hindrance to my flight training; Evelyn offered me the assistance I need to meet my goal.

In my next blog post, I will share with you a little more about my experience taking flying lessons from this legend pilot and instructor. The lessons she taught me still ring in my ears today, when I fly, when I teach, and when I interact with others.

My next post will be after Christmas.   I wish you all a very Merry Christmas my friends.

Airplanes: “Bitten by the bug”

cropped-img_76971.jpgI am a pilot today, because my father and I shared a mutual love of aviation. My father let me tag along with him to the airport, when he he was taking flight training.  Later on, he encouraged me and allowed me to take flying lessons myself. Sharing a common passion with your father is an unimaginable gift, and when it becomes something you do together, it deepens that relationship.  It is this passion for aviation, and the joy of helping others achieve their dreams that drives me to teach as a flight instructor.


My dad’s passion for aviation emerged, while  growing up during World War II.  Dad was intrigued by all of the amazing aircraft being flown by the allied air forces during the war. I remember Dad telling me that he used to make balsa models of  of some of those aircraft (the P-51 Mustang, F-4 Hellcat, and the B-25) which were some of his favorites. His love of all things aviation never subsided even when he stopped flying.  Eventually my father would re-connect with that passion once again, but much later on in life.

in the late 1950’s, my father took his first few flying lessons when we was in hiIMG_2165s 20-30’s.   Dad never made his first solo flight during that time, and eventually stopped flying for reasons he never shared.  Not until the 1980’s (30 years later) did he return to aviation as a hobby.  When he did return to aviation, I remember riding down to the airport in Morristown Tennessee where he re-started taking flying lessons. Morristown Airport was about 30 miles away from our home, and at first I never understood why we would drive so far away to fly at this little airport, because there was a perfectly good airport in our own hometown.  On that first trip to the airport together, when I met my father’s flight instructor, I knew right away why he made that long trek each week to learn to fly.

IMG_3091My father’s flight instructor, and later mine as well, was Evelyn Bryan Johnson. Evelyn was a petite (a little over 5 feet tall), fiery, confident, 70 year old. Back in those days, she was not the typical (dark sunglasses, silk scarf, leather jacket clad) pilot that we read about in books, and see portrayed in movies. Evelyn Bryan Johnson, even at the age of 70 was an active, engaging, and spit-fired aviation legend. In this little rural town in East Tennessee, we had living, working, and flying among us a legendary flight instructor and pilot, and you know what, she was my Dad’s flight instructor (and later mine). This wonderful teacher of flight would have a positive influence on my life, in ways that would go way beyond merely teaching me “stick and rudder” skills.

In my next post, I will share more about those early days of flying with Evelyn and my Dad. These were special days when aviation was so unspoiled, when “stick and rudder,” “flying by the seat of your pants,” and the basic skills of maneuvering your craft among the lofty heights was so deeply embedded in this sport. Please check back for my next blog post.



Aviation: Beauty and so much more

FirstSoloEBJ 8-18-1981I have been flying airplanes for over 37 years. From the age of 15, aviation has been a significant part of my life.  When I tell people I am a pilot and a flight instructor they sometimes ask,  “Isn’t flying dangerous?”   My response has usually been something like, “flying is no more risky than driving down the interstate, or taking a walk around your own neighborhood.”  The risks of flying are minimal to me, when you consider that flying provides a select few, pilots, aviators, and lovers of the air, opportunities to enjoy an unmatched view from the sky.  The earth is so beautiful when you see it from up there.
cropped-cropped-img_78471.jpgLife’s troubles and problems seem so small from up there.  The perspective on life is forever changed, when one sees the neighborhood from up there.  Even so, aviation offers so much more than just a view of beautiful scenery.  I will be starting a new series of reflections that looks back over my lifetime of aviation.
IMG_4648From the early days of my own flight training, to my stint as a full-time flight instructor, to today as a Mission Pilot and Flight instructor in CAP, I will share my own insights, suggestions, encouragement, and maybe a funny story or two.  Please check out my blog over the next few months, as I share a few thoughts about my adventures in aviation, this avocation that has in so many ways, brought me to a deeper appreciation of, and an ongoing and growing love of God’s holy creation.







“Take Courage” – An Advent Reflection

mary_jesusMatthew 14:27
But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”
A wise spiritual director once told me, “Tension and discomfort are usually signs that change in your life is imminent.” I think she was right. The end of the year always seems to bring “change” into the forefront of our lives. As a new year emerges, companies re-align their strategies, countries install new leaders, and organizations re-think how they will operate, how they will allocate resources, and how they will function in the new year. All of those decisions impact the lives of people outside the strategic plans of large organizations.
Throughout my business career, I saw year-end changes in companies that affected so many people. In my own life, change came when it was least expected. I am sure some of you are feeling the discomfort of imminent change, whether it is the impending nationwide changes that will occur with this new White House administration, or maybe you are contemplating a new employment situation or possibly there is a change coming in your life of which, you are not even aware.
I encourage you as we enter this time of expectant waiting, to listen to the words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, “Don’t be afraid, take courage, I am here.” God never abandons us. God is with us. God is waiting with open arms to receive the anxiety and uncertainties of our lives. Take courage.

“Wisdom” 12/1/16

fork-in-the-roadSometimes, we have to live quietly, patiently, and faithfully in the ambiguity of life and trust that God’s in charge. Other times, we must take a stand, face what is ahead, and walk toward the unknown with courage, boldness, and decisiveness and yes, even then, trust that God is in charge. Lord, give us the wisdom to know that YOU are the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, and we are the created, redeemed, and sustained.


Eric Cooter

“Integrity” A Civil Air Patrol Core Value

by Ch. Maj. Eric Cooter, CAP Group 5 flyingChaplain/Unit Chaplain

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “Integrity” both as “the quality of being honest and fair,” as well as “the state of being complete or whole.”  When most of us think of integrity, the characteristics of honesty and fairness usually come to mind.  However, a life of honesty and fairness requires us to be emotionally, physically, as well as spiritually whole.  Wholeness means that we are living in a state of “not lacking or leaving out any part.”

Life’s circumstance can often leave us lacking.  When we are physically ill or we experience an injury, our entire state of wholeness shifts.  Our mental state becomes challenged, we may become despondent, and our spirit focuses on the negative. When our emotional state is challenged because of stress, we often feel that emotion in our guts or for some of us, our immune system becomes compromised and we catch a cold or some other minor illness.  When we overlook our spiritual practices, or we fail to care for our spiritual selves, we may experience the emotions of despondency, fear, or a lack of peace.

Alternatively, when we exercise and eat properly, when we take time for meditation, prayer, or other spiritual/religious practices, and when we spend quality time with friends and family, our health tends to improve, we focus more on the positive, and we feel more connected to others and the world around us.  An online Mayo Clinic article states, “Taking the path less traveled by exploring your spirituality can lead to a clearer life purpose, better personal relationships and enhanced stress management skills.”(1)

We are a whole person that cannot be divided.  We are more than mere mental and physical functions. We are intelligent, emotional, and spiritual beings, who require balance in order to be whole.   An aircraft engine requires fuel, air, and spark to run properly, and if any of those things are out of balance, the engine does not run at its optimum level.

Accomplishing our individual mission tasks and working together as a team, to insure we accomplish our team mission requires all of us to function at our optimum level.

Living the core values of CAP can be a challenge for all of us, but achieving our goals, accomplishing the mission, and living a life of “honesty and fairness,” living as a person of integrity requires each of us to be whole.  Like packing up your “mission bag” with MRE’s and water purification tablets, or conducting a pre-flight before starting the engine, begin the practice of taking care of yourself and your mission readiness.  Eat well, get plenty of rest, have fun and play, spend time with your family and friends, study and work to improve your skills, and take care of your spirit.  Pray, meditate, and consider committing to a frequent observance of the religious practices of your faith tradition.  Commit to be your whole self, your balanced self, and your best self.  Live with integrity!


Encouragement for Experimenters, Innovators, and Risk Takers.

1903_banner_rightGod equips each one of us for specific ministry. (I Cor. 12:12-27)  Some folks are uniquely and adequately equipped to serve as protectors of the tradition as it is, and others are gifted to experiment, innovate, and try new approaches. Others are gifted to stand in the middle holding both tradition and innovation in tension. We need more risk-takers in the church!
Consider the early innovators of science and technology, people like the Wright Brothers, who failed many times at their attempts to achieve the first manned powered flight. Now, forty-seven years after the successful Apollo 11 landing on the moon, NASA has still failed to move humans beyond Earth’s orbit, but there are some who are dreaming about traveling to Mars. Innovation requires vision, patience, and fortitude both in times of success, in the midst of failure, and after periods of many setbacks.
Experimentation is costly and it may never show measurable results. Risk-taking and experimentation requires fortitude in the midst of setbacks, doubters, and detractors. Fear can keep us from trying or sustaining something different, from dreaming new dreams, and from stepping out and taking a risk. If trepidation wins, we will never know what possibilities might have been. Innovators, experimenters, and risk-takers require encouragement and support.
So, it is easy for folks to sit on the sideline and say, “stay with it” or “buck up and keep going” or even “it is time to give up.” When you are in the middle of the storm, when all those around you have lost faith in your vision, and when behind you there lies a string of false starts, early departures, and utter failures, the choice then is this, “you can just quit, or you can keep trusting God and keep going.” The future depends on innovators and experimenters who are willing to traverse the rocky and difficult road of failure, in order to see their vision come to fruition.
By the way, the next time you hop in a Boeing 737 for that short flight to see a friend, give thanks for the patience, fortitude, and vision of two men, Orville and Wilbur Wright. They were just two guys from Ohio that many people thought were simple, crazy bicycle makers that dreamed of flying with the birds.