Rich Stowell

October 1, 2006

After more than 28,000 spins and thousands of hours in the air, Rich Stowell still recalls his first flight lessons nearly 25 years ago as a less-than-pleasant experience. He was a bit of a late bloomer, learning to fly while working as an engineer, designing heating and air-conditioning systems three floors underground in New York City. "Low-tech aerodynamics," he says.

Stowell realized the engineering job wasn't something he could do for a lifetime. He started taking flying lessons as a possible alternative. But in the beginning, flying didn't seem like the best choice either. "I remember many times driving to the airport, breaking out in red blotches and hives," Stowell recalls.

But the fear was usually gone by the end of the day. "Every day on the ride home from the lesson I was just so happy that we flew." Despite the rough start, Stowell says he started his lessons with the goal of flying aerobatics. Eventually he enjoyed the flying more and more, so he quit his job and flew every day until he got his certificate.

The story is something Stowell likes to tell his students today as one of the premier spin and unusual-attitude instructors in the country. He says a lot of people assume he's always been a natural at flying, and telling students his story helps put them at ease.

Stowell moved to Los Angeles from his native New Jersey and although he was back on the job as an engineer, he spent every weekend at California's Santa Paula Airport, where there was an aerobatic community. After a short time, the owner of the local FBO asked Stowell to put together an instruction program, and he quit his day job once again and started instructing in 1988. "I haven't had a real job since," he says.

These days he instructs a little more than 500 hours a year, and points out that's 0.7 hours at a time. He also travels the country giving seminars on emergency maneuvers training.

And despite working as one of the country's most famous instructors for nearly 20 years and winning the national CFI of the year award in 2006, Stowell has never worked as a primary or IFR instructor. "I went right away into teaching the spins and the emergency maneuvers and the aerobatics." It's why he got out of his basement job to begin with.