Bill Chilson, General William J. Fox Airfield Airport (WJF), Lancaster, California
About his checkride: “All I can say is wow! What an experience. I don’t think I’ve had this much anxiety since I signed off on one of the hardest sectors as an air traffic controller.”
Recent accomplishment: Checked out in a Cessna 172.
Mentor’s advice: “Keep it simple. The hardest part for Bill was learning phraseology that pilot’s use, which is short and sweet, compared to what we learn as air traffic controllers held to exact wording.”— Kevin Bannon
Five years ago, Kevin Bannon of Chino Hills, California, was a 23-year-old flight instructor. He remembers being asked, “What are you going to do when you have a student who is 20 years older than you?” His response today, at 28, is still the same. “I’m the boss. I have the certificate. If I can’t answer your question, I’ll send you to the person who I know can help.”
With more than 1,200 hours of flying in his logbook, Bannon is still flight instructing and has accepted the challenge of being a mentor for the first time. His mentee is 47-year-old Bill Chilson, his coworker at the FAA Air Route Traffic Control Center in Palmdale, California, where they manage all aircraft coming into Southern California airports. Chilson has been an air traffic controller for 21 years.
“He is one of my best students out of the 30 to 40 that I’ve instructed,” said Bannon, who started flying two to three times a week with Chilson in May 2007. Beginning at 7 a.m. on April 24, 2008, Bannon waited outside the flight school until 2 p.m. for Chilson as he successfully endured his six-hour checkride.
“I knew Kevin had done his job and I was confident,” said Chilson. “All in all, I was mentally tired, but felt very proud for both Kevin and myself.”
Chilson trained Bannon as an air traffic controller when he came to work at the center in June 2005. Bannon attended Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, with the intention of becoming an airline pilot. It didn’t matter what other little boys were doing. At five years old, Bannon was running in from outside to watch his favorite TV show, Black Sheep Squadron, based on World War II fighter pilots. Bannon started flying when he was 12. Over the years, he attended several local airshows with his father, a recreational pilot. He soloed on his sixteenth birthday and was a private pilot by age 17.
Bannon worked as instructor full-time, then the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, led to a dramatic downturn in the airline industry. Luckily for him, he had pursued air traffic controller training on the side, and was ready when the FAA invited him to attend its academy and controller training in 2004.
“I have been a really good motivator for Bill,” said Bannon, adding that his first mentoring experience was easy. “Chilson is good about his own efforts and knew a lot about aviation prior to flight training because of his job,” he said.
They look up to each other and have a friendship that matches well. “We get to push each other’s buttons,” said Bannon. “If it wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
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