August 31, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
Dominick and Adam Ruscitti have found their niche as flight instructors.
Creating an opportunity from Dominick’s retirement and Adam’s furlough from their jobs as airline pilots, the father and son team from Illinois saw a chance to focus on some specialized aspects of their experience—and launched a venture of their own.
Their work with some very special clients is both challenging and fun. The most fun part might be when they get to bestow their trademark tribute on a student at the end of a flight course.
Their words must come as music to the client’s ear as well when they hear the Ruscittis say, “Congratulations, jet captain.”
Call it part destiny, and part a family aviation tradition that led Dominick, a retired United Airlines Boeing 747 captain, and his son Adam, furloughed from his United post on the Boeing 737, to join up in private enterprise, instructing and serving as mentors for pilots stepping up from piston aircraft to very light jets.
Their venture’s business model is put forth on its website, titled Striving for Perfection: “The Very Light Jet (VLJ) industry has created a new paradigm in aviation. Technology and affordability have made owning a small jet for many owner/operators a reality. However, the challenges of flying these highly complex aircraft require professional training by knowledgeable and experienced instructors.”
The men offer instruction, mentoring, pilot staffing services, and consulting to jet owners. The mentoring “is modeled after Airline IOE (Initial Operating Experience) training. After completion of your type rating, you are paired with one our experienced instructors for a specific period of time (determined by experience and insurance requirements). During mentoring, you gain invaluable exposure to flying the aircraft in ‘real life’ scenarios.”
Dominick said he could not be happier with his post-retirement career.
“Having a son who was excited about it, who came up through the ranks, was really a treat for me, one of the most satisfying things in aviation,” said Dominick in a joint phone interview.
Adam said his dad taught him to fly. Like many pilots from aviation families, Adam soloed as soon as possible at age 16.
“I trusted him to teach me to fly, but I wasn’t so sure about his teaching me to drive a car,” Adam quipped. “Now we have created a working relationship as well.”
Together they provide instruction and mentoring on the Cessna Citation Mustang, Citation CJ series, Embraer Phenom 100, and Eclipse 500 jets. In July, both men received the Master Flight Instructor designation—although as far as Adam is concerned, dad Dominick has been a master instructor for a very long time.
Retired after a 37-year airline career, Dominick served as a standards captain and line-check airman at United. On retirement he became the first non-Eclipse-employed mentor pilot on the Eclipse 500. Since leaving his 747 captain’s position he also has added four type ratings—for a total of 13—and owns a Vans RV-7A. Both men have served as FAA Safety Team representatives.
Timing was everything. Dominick said that he had recently become involved as an Eclipse mentor when Adam’s furlough created the need, and the opportunity, to get him involved with the program. They branched out into the other VLJs, and began working together on some of their training projects, switching off to give their clients a sample of their different teaching styles.
The Ruscittis think of general aviation pilots who step up to jets as a special breed in need of highly tailored training—and deserving of a lot of respect.
What makes a GA pilot take the step up?
All of their clients who sought a place in a jet cockpit “did it from the pure love and joy of aviation,” Adam said. Many had already proven their strong drive to succeed, starting from humble origins and taking on the world as entrepreneurs. But now, perhaps at an age of 50 or 60, going for flight training at odd hours doesn’t work for many clients who must train to the stringent standards required. That client needs a personalized program.
What’s the single most important element of the training when a GA pilot steps up to a jet?
“It’s all about managing the workload in training,” Adam said. The Ruscittis point out to their students that unlike an airline cockpit, where two (or more) members share duty, in a VLJ, “You’re it.”
Managing the volume of information is demanding—and the opportunity for error is considerable. (The Ruscittis start off by telling the client that they have “made every single mistake that you are going to make.”) But the instructors and students also share the joys of flying the jets that their clients have chosen for their personal aircraft, and the aircraft “fly beautifully,” Dominick said.
“Getting above the weather, turning on anti-ice with ease, and if you lose an engine on takeoff, just put your foot on the (rudder) pedal and hold the proper attitude,” Dominick said. “It’s so much easier than engine loss on a Baron.”
Complementing the mutual satisfaction the Ruscittis enjoy when helping GA pilots move up to jets was their shared achievement in July of earning the Master Certificated Flight Instructor designation under a national accreditation process offered for aviation educators by the Master Instructor Program. It recognizes an instructor’s commitment to excellence, professional growth and service to the aviation community.
Dominick’s pride in sharing that accomplishment with his son brought a like reflection from Adam.
“As far as I am concerned, Dad has been a Master CFI for 35 years. It’s a nice title to top off a wonderful career.”
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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