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Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Protecting Your Freedom to Fly

Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

Lessons from an old pro

Do what you love to do

I recently received some dual instruction from a true Old Pro. Judd Davis and I delivered a Cessna Skylane to Knoxville. I used to live in a Skylane five days a week, but Judd still taught me a lot about Skylanes on this trip. Bobby Davis brought us back in his beautiful Piper Saratoga, and Bobby learned a lot about his own airplane from Judd.

What can I tell you about Judd Davis? Well, Judd is almost 73. He has been flying for 56 years and has amassed more than 14,500 hours. He still flies about 400 hours per year, so you young folks aren't going to catch up with him anytime soon.

Judd hasn't spent all of those years/hours "just" instructing, either. He was an aeronautical engineer with Boeing for more than 16 years. During much of that time he and Boeing worked on NASA's Saturn program, so Judd also qualifies as a bona fide rocket engineer. And he instructed on weekends.

I don't think Judd ever flew for the airlines or military, but he has flown about everything else, including corporate and charter. Today, he is check airman for a charter outfit, flies as backup on at least one corporate jet, and instructs. He is still one of the best instructors I know.

Judd retired from his engineering job several years ago, but he makes more money flying today than many a full-time pilot. His reputation is such that he charges a bit more than most and still has to turn down customers. As I was writing this column, he had to turn down a jet trip.

Frankly, Judd has it made. He is having a ball doing exactly what he wants to do and getting paid well to do it. Most people have to hunt new pastimes when they "retire," and they pay through the nose for the privilege. Judd would probably pay to fly, if he had to, but instead he is sought out and paid to do what he loves. He is a happy man. He may live forever, but if he ever does die, he'll probably have to cancel a flight to attend his own funeral.

I know several pilots who, like Judd, still fly long after they could have retired. Bill Kershner, the great aviation textbook writer, still instructs, as does Evelyn Johnson, who has more time than anyone else alive -- and more than any pilot who ever lived (except for Ed Long, who also instructed until he died). In all of those cases, instruction played a big part in their total time. Judd, Bill, and Evelyn are known as very happy people, and why shouldn't they be? They are doing exactly what they love.

In all three cases, they instructed in one locality for years -- decades. They built a reputation not just for expertise but also for caring about their students, ethics, dedication, commitment, and, yes, for above-average skills. In each case, they delved into flying and instruction more deeply than others. They took it more seriously than did others.

Perhaps you think yourself too young to be thinking about retirement, but that time will come sooner than you think. Hang on to your flight instructor certificate!

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying for more than 33 years and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating. Visit his Web site.

By Ralph Hood

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