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AOPA Project Pilot

A Community of Flying

Where everyone mentors each other His face probably looks familiar. Is it Dexter Reilly? Jack Burton? Wyatt Earp? Snake Plissken? Captain Ron? Yes, all of the above.

The Lindbergh Legacy

Who better to promote aviation than Charles A. Lindbergh? That's what AOPA thought 13 years ago when it launched the first AOPA Project Pilot program. The marketing program for the initial Project Pilot launch featured a historic photograph of Lindbergh with the tag line "We're looking for pilots with spirit." The program was a success, yet other association initiatives eventually overshadowed it until last year when AOPA relaunched the program with more vigor and a special spokesperson. AOPA President Phil Boyer unveiled the program at the AOPA Fly-In and Open House in June 2006 with another Lindbergh — the grandson of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Erik Lindbergh. But it's more than the name that makes this Lindbergh the perfect pitchman for Project Pilot, for even with a name like Lindbergh, he had to be influenced by a friend to begin flight instruction. His friend was learning to fly and kept bugging him to fly too. "I went up on a demo flight and said, 'This is cool!' Then I got my private license [in 1989] and realized it was a license to learn," says Lindbergh. In 2002 he commemorated the seventy-fifth anniversary of his grandfather's historic flight by charting a path from San Diego to St. Louis to New York and then across the Atlantic to Paris. Like his grandfather he flew solo, this time in the New Spirit of St. Louis, a Columbia 300. "That flight changed my life," says Lindbergh. Sharing his passion for flight is Lindbergh's role for AOPA Project Pilot. Speaking at aviation events, writing a monthly column for AOPA Pilot, and helping with marketing efforts, Lindbergh is promoting aviation as powerfully as his grandfather did more than 80 years ago.

Where everyone mentors each other

His face probably looks familiar.

Is it Dexter Reilly? Jack Burton? Wyatt Earp? Snake Plissken? Captain Ron? Yes, all of the above. But in real life actor Kurt Russell is a passionate general aviation pilot and, more important, an AOPA Project Pilot Mentor. His influence on other Hollywood-type pilots includes long conversations with actors Tom Cruise and Edward Norton about flying, both of whom are now pilots. Russell's latest recruit to the world of aviation — and his Project Pilot mentoree — is Mike Vogel, Russell's co-star in the 2006 remake of the movie Poseidon.

"Kurt Russell has such a passion for aviation," says Vogel. "He's just a consummate professional in everything — especially when it comes to flying." The 27-year-old Vogel wanted to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but the "acting thing" was more than he could resist. That didn't stop him from talking about his two favorite subjects — baseball and flying — with Russell on Poseidon's set. "He took Josh [Lucas, another actor from Poseidon] and me in his plane [an EADS Socata TBM 700] to Las Vegas. We encountered some weather — and you can imagine three actors from one Warner Bros. movie in one plane — and he instilled in me the most important thing, that proud pilots are dead pilots. If something doesn't feel right in an airplane, Kurt doesn't play around."

Russell's grandfather was a pilot in the 1920s and Russell remembers growing up listening to his grandfather's flying stories. "He had something like 40,000 hours so he had lots of stories," Russell says. "I was in Aspen and saw a Piper Cub fly overhead and remembered my grandfather's stories from the past. I thought, 'You know, maybe I should give that a try.'" After 23 hours of instruction Russell soloed, and 90 hours later he had his certificate. That was in 1988. "I don't know if that's slow, but I did use the experience of a guy just about ready for his solo in my character in [the movie] Executive Decision. Once I realized I could fly safely, that's when I knew I was ready. When I went for my checkride I was asked if I was nervous. I said, 'I don't want to be; if I am, I'm not ready.' I had a perfect score on my private written and for my instrument rating."

Russell is humble about his mentoring of Vogel.

Vogel is vocal about Russell.

"It's a community of flying where everyone mentors each other," says Russell.

"I'm always learning from him. I call or text him with questions. Bouncing questions off Kurt is priceless," says Vogel.

What would Dexter Reilly say to that?

Serious about life

You don't have to be a movie star to become a pilot or mentor someone who wants to be a pilot. Greg Martin would probably tell you he's not leading-man material — in fact, it's his nose-to-the-grindstone approach to life that has kept this 55-year-old medical salesman from pursuing the dream to become a pilot. That changed when his friends told him it was about time to get serious about life.

"My friends are all pilots. They've been on me forever [to get my private pilot certificate]," says Martin. But it was always something that kept Martin from flying. His friends wanted him to join the Civil Air Patrol, but he was working as a photographer trying to make money for college. Then he got married and the couple had two daughters. Years later, the post-9/11 world made his business more intense. There was always something.

Then one of his daughters started dating a young man whose father is a pilot. His daughter started taking flying lessons. Martin realized life was moving even more quickly than ever. In talking to the young man's father, Larry Clark, Martin found a Mentor who could finally get him moving, and now, with Clark's help, Martin has a goal of getting certificated by the end of the summer. "I don't want to stretch this out. My game plan is to get as many hours in as little time as possible. I've waited long enough."

How it works


Find someone who is interested in learning to fly.


Arrange for an introductory flight; encourage him or her to start flying lessons.


Provide the name and e-mail address of the student pilot you will mentor. Fill out the insert card on page 27 of this issue.


Visit the Web site to sign up. Once your student confirms, you both will receive a resource kit in the mail.

The resource kit for the Mentor includes:

  • A greeting from AOPA Project Pilot spokesman Erik Lindbergh.
  • A personal letter from AOPA President Phil Boyer.
  • An AOPA Project Pilot mouse pad.
  • AOPA Project Pilot decals for your car or airplane.
  • A special AOPA Project Pilot ball cap.
  • An AOPA Project Pilot brochure — to help you find even more students!

The resource kit for the student includes:

  • A greeting from AOPA Project Pilot spokesman Erik Lindbergh.
  • A personal letter from AOPA President Phil Boyer.
  • An exciting and informative DVD to get started.
  • Invitation to Fly — a special magazine for future pilots.
  • AOPA Project Pilot decals for the student's car or airplane.
  • Free issue of AOPA Flight Training.

You and your student should visit the Web site frequently. There you can find valuable information for every stage of flight training, search for a flight school or aviation medical examiner, track your student's progress online, and celebrate key milestones.


In our one-year effort:

  • 5,160 Project Pilot Mentors
  • 6,045 Project Pilot students (141 have reported passing their checkride).

Martin's wife thought he'd "lost his mind" at first, he says. But the couple recently bought a vacation house in the mountains of North Carolina, a 10-hour drive from their Florida home. The advantage of flying just a couple of hours versus 10 hours of driving appealed to her. "I told her, 'Look at all the places we can go.' We can enjoy the excitement of flying," says Martin.

AOPA will be following Martin's progress throughout his flight training, highlights of which will be featured on AOPA Online, in AOPA ePilot ®, and in this magazine.

He's a winner

Robert Showalter, 18, feels like a winner. In fact, he says, he usually wins when he enters something. Well, he was proven right at the annual Sun 'n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, Florida, in April. Attending the fly-in with his AOPA Project Pilot Mentor Bill Walker, 69, his next-door neighbor from St. Simons Island, Georgia, Showalter stopped by AOPA's big yellow tent to sign up for Project Pilot. There he slapped on a bright red sticker announcing his status as a Project Pilot student. Later, the AOPA SurPrize Patrol found Showalter and Walker walking around the airshow grounds. Spotting the red sticker, AOPA awarded Showalter $250 for flight lessons.

Showalter flew to Lakeland in Walker's 1966 Piper Twin Comanche. Walker owns Golden Isles Aviation at Malcolm McKinnon Airport in Brunswick, Georgia. The two met when the contractor working on Walker's house introduced him to Showalter because the teen had been hanging around the construction site wanting to talk about flying. Walker read about AOPA Project Pilot online and saw that the program was offering scholarships to prospective flight students (a $5,000 scholarship was awarded to Danuta Hartman, of Wallingford, Connecticut, one of the 16 Project Pilot participants spotted at Sun 'n Fun). Although Showalter hoped to be the $5,000 winner, the $250 will still be a great help. "He'll be washing airplanes, cutting the grass at the FBO, and fueling airplanes," says Walker of how Showalter will pay for the rest of his lessons.

And since he's an AOPA scholarship winner, Showalter's progress will be tracked by AOPA. We'll let you know when the lucky redhead passes his checkride.

It's about time

Like many young wives whose husbands learn to fly, Regina Roy, 49, admits to being content to be simply a passenger in her husband's aircraft. And for the past 20 years, that's what she's done. Until now. "I always let him do the flying," she says. "I just flew happily along." But recently she and husband Billy Roy, a captain for ATA Airlines, flew their Piper Arrow on a long cross-country and Regina found herself enjoying the trip more than usual. "It was gorgeous all the time and I started to think it would be neat if I could actually be the one flying," she says.

Billy and Regina are high school sweethearts who have been married for 32 years. They've practically grown up together. "My young husband was a prankster. The first time I flew with him — we were both barely 20 — I asked him what would happen if the engine quit," she says. And you know the answer — he cut the engine over what he knew was a grass strip, but what she thought was simply an open field. "He apologized, but I considered never flying again."

Now the couple have a 7-year-old grandson who loves to fly, they own and fly the Piper Arrow, they built and fly a Wendt-WH-1 experimental aircraft, and they are planning on building another. So Regina is deciding on a flight school in the Indianapolis area, with Billy telling her, "Once you do it [land the airplane] the first time, you'll be walking tall in your shoes then."

E-mail the author at [email protected].

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