The Middleton men - Marc, Gary, Greg, and
Brent - complete a family circle of flight training.
All Gary Middleton ever wanted to do for a living was fly airplanes. With about 27,000 hours of flight time logged, he's done that. He's been a pilot for Air Wisconsin for about 28 years and is still a certificated flight instructor of 30 years.
But it's always been about more than just flying. It's about sharing his passion for aviation with his family in Dayton, Ohio. And he started with his father, Forrest. Gary taught his father to fly, training him to complete his first solo in 1976 in a 1941 Taylorcraft. Forrest earned his private pilot certificate in 1977 when he was 56 years old and flew until shortly before he passed away from Alzheimer's in 2000.
Years later, the next goal on Gary's list was to become an AOPA Project Pilot Mentor and turn his latest protégés - his sons Greg, Brent, and Marc - into the best pilots they can be.
"I thought it would be a good way to encourage the boys to keep up with the training and immerse them more in the issues we face these days in keeping GA alive. We've got to keep the young ones coming in at the bottom to replace those of us who are shooting out the top," said Gary.
A lot of good memories have been made while flying with his sons on board.
"He's flipped me, snapped me, rolled me, and consecutively spun me toward the ground on numerous occasions," said 22-year-old Greg, an account executive for LexisNexis in Dayton, Ohio.
Being in the airplane has become almost second nature to him, which would explain his "extremely anticlimactic" first solo.
"I've always known that when he (my dad) tells one of us that we're ready to solo, then we really are ready, and that does wonders for the nerves," said Greg, who is currently working on the cross-country portion of his training.
A long way from completing his first solo, 15-year-old Marc is working hard to earn money at his summer job so he can start his flight training.
"I don't overemphasize time frames and hours or say 'let's get this done by a certain date' with them," said Gary. "I emphasize 'let's learn to do this right.'"
Marc, a soon-to-be sophomore in high school, has had much experience watching his dad do it right. He said he loves flying with his dad because he knows "if anything goes wrong he's been flying for so long that he'll know what to do."
Knowing what to do runs in the family. As a junior at Ohio University, 20-year-old Brent has learned to balance flying and working toward his degree in business marketing.
"Education has always been the number one priority in our family, and school is my number one focus right now," he said, adding that he enjoys being in the cockpit next to his dad and is eager to get his pilot certificate.
Since Gary's sons have to pay their own way for their flight training, Brent is progressing a little slower because he also pays some of his college expenses.
"The best part of this whole thing has just been spending time with my sons, " said Gary. "On top of that I get to pass along some of the things I've learned in 37 years of flying. Hopefully I can show them a few things and talk about some things I've experienced that maybe a new CFI might not be able to. Being able to share my passion for airplanes with them is, flat out, one of the highlights of my life. I kind of hope to pass some of that passion down the line to them."
Even though they are competitive and like to joke about who is the better pilot, they all enjoy their time together and learn from one another.
"All of us are very close, and our family is together all the time. My brothers are my best friends, and I think that is what is so special about us all learning to fly from my dad," said Brent.
"Learning to fly from my dad has been an amazing experience," said Greg. "We get to share in something that has and always will be such a large part of his life. My dad doesn't fly for the money or for any other reason than the simple fact that he loves to fly.
"It's that love and passion for flying that makes learning from him and sharing in his experiences all that much more enjoyable." - Kate Opalewski
June 14, 2007