AOPA Project Pilot provides members with the tools to find viable flight-training candidates and support them as student pilots with the wisdom and encouragement of experienced pilots through mentoring. A student with a Project Pilot Mentor is three times more likely to successfully complete his or her training. This exciting program is available free to all AOPA members. You don't have to be a CFI to participate. All it takes is someone who wants to share the joy of general aviation and a few minutes a week to help a student along.
What is it about flying that is so compelling? I guess it has to do with slipping the surly bonds imposed upon us by gravity. Humans tend to have a relatively poor glide ratio without some rather elegant technology attached to or surrounding our physical bodies. In the last 100-plus years we have been able to transcend our ground-based lives and take to the air in such a way as to make flying seem almost routine, or perhaps even mundane if you are sitting in the back of a big jet.
What general aviation pilots get to experience that the public doesn't is the magic of a slow gentle turn over their own house and the discovery of something new that they weren't aware of from their normal ground-based reality — such as looking down into the waters of Puget Sound from above and seeing a whale or a submarine just under the surface. These experiences are our little secret.
In reality, we often have a hard time keeping it to ourselves. I recently saw a T-shirt that said: "How do you tell which person at the party is a pilot?" The answer on the back of the shirt said "They can't stop talking about it." So, when I am asked the question, "What is the most fun you have had flying?" I could go on all day; choosing just one flying experience is like picking a flavor of ice cream.
One of my favorite experiences so far was a week of flying gliders in Minden, Nevada. If you've been to Minden, you might wonder about my sanity, but the glamour that Minden lacks on the ground it makes up for in the air. Just thinking about glider flying fills my head with superlatives and metaphors. It is at once simple, graceful, and free yet filled with a kind of intensity not found in other flying. Once you cut loose from the towplane you are on the hunt for best lift or minimum sink, seeking clues to the invisible columns of air that are betrayed by eagles and cumulus clouds. Always in the back of your mind is the intensity of knowing that it would be a good thing to land back at the airport, and you don't have an engine on board. This exhilarating combination of hunt-and-seek balanced by the umbilical cord comprised of altitude and distance from the airport make my week of glider flying stand out as one of my favorites. I do anticipate the possibility that a week of flying floatplanes might be even more fun. Hmmm, I might have to find myself a mentor for my floatplane rating.
AOPA Project Pilot spokesman
I have enjoyed following the success stories of new pilots who have been mentored on the path to certification by fellow airmen who have taken the time and interest to pass along their experience.
I recently had one of the greatest privileges a dad can have, that of mentoring his own son. I flew in Bolivia, South America, for 18 years as a missionary pilot. Every day of flying in Bolivia was an adventure. I flew both single-engine and twin-engine aircraft over the Andes mountains. No flight was ever made that did not involve climbing above 12,500 feet (the elevation of the lowest pass) and if conditions were IMC the flight had to climb to at least 18,000 feet. It was in Bolivia that my two sons were introduced to flying. They were able to accompany me on countless trips and they eventually became quite adept at handling the aircraft themselves.
After my sons Dallas and Troy graduated from high school, we returned to the United States so they could pursue their college educations. My older son, Dallas, AOPA 5809400, is pursuing a career in aviation after graduating with a degree in international business. My younger son, Troy, graduated with a degree in criminal justice and was commissioned into the Army as a second lieutenant. Dallas began his flight training in January at Georgia Aviation Technical College in Eastman, Georgia. He passed his private pilot checkride on April 23, 2007. Now he is enjoying building time toward his instrument rating and commercial ticket. It has been a privilege for me to mentor my own son. I enjoy following his progress as he goes down the same path I went down some 25 years ago.
We welcome your photos. Although we can't guarantee publication, we encourage you to e-mail photos to [email protected] or call 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672). For more information or to nominate someone for AOPA Project Pilot, please go to the Web site.