Round trip from Eleuthera Island to a nearby island in the Bahamas could take 11 hours by car and boat, and a daylong meeting on another island could turn into a three-day trip for Bahamas Methodist Habitat Executive Director Abraham McIntyre. Soon, those same trips could be cut to a couple of hours of flight time and allow same-day travel to and from his home base on Eleuthera after an eight-hour meeting on a different island.
He’s working on his private pilot certificate thanks to Redbird Flight Simulations and Bahamas Habitat, the sister organization of Bahamas Methodist Habitat that provides air support for work projects and disaster relief. Redbird donated a $9,500, three- to four-week training slot at its Skyport training facility at San Marcos Municipal Airport in Texas to Bahamas Habitat. The U.S.-based nonprofit organization has been recognized by the National Aeronautic Association for its quick response times after natural disasters in Haiti.
Bahamas Habitat selected McIntyre for the training because he is based on the islands and could respond after a disaster before pilots from the United States can get to the Bahamas. It also would allow McIntyre to travel more efficiently to meetings, to pick up tools and supplies for mission groups, and to help others on less frequented islands.
Josh Harnagel, marketing director of Redbird Skyport, told AOPA Online that the company “didn’t want to give to someone who couldn’t immediately put it to use.” Bahamas Habitat believes McIntyre is the perfect fit.
"With his Private Pilot Certificate, Abe will be far more effective in his role as Executive Director for the Bahamian side of the mission organization. He has many projects in progress in remote locations that need the transportation solution only GA can provide," Steve Merritt, Bahamas Habitat treasurer and chief pilot, said in a news release.
McIntyre enters training on April 9 and hopes to give his new private pilot certificate a workout in the Bahamas as early as May or June. Finding time to prepare for the course has proven challenging for McIntyre, who studied for his knowledge test while coordinating a group of 35 volunteers who were working on the islands for a week. Reliable Internet access also presented some roadblocks while he tried to watch the King Schools ground school course online.
“It’s been a learning curve,” he said of the ground school. He’s already passed the knowledge test and has his medical in hand. During April, he’ll be able to focus on simulator and flight training without distraction. Earlier this year, McIntyre worried because he didn’t have any volunteer groups lined up for mission work in April. “Timing wise, it’s awesome how God put this together,” McIntyre said. Without the opportunity to complete this intensive training program, McIntyre said it wouldn’t be possible for him to juggle flight training with his other responsibilities on the islands.
“Redbird Skyport is an amazingly valuable partner,” said John Armstrong, Bahamas Habitat chairman and president, “not only for supporting our mission training needs, but also for offering the potential to make aviation available to the wider public.
The training McIntyre will receive is part of a new program that Redbird is testing. He and about nine other students will complete all of their training in a simulator, including a mock checkride, before ever setting foot in an airplane. After that, the group will transition to a Cessna 172 and then complete 10 hours of solo flying before taking a checkride. Redbird plans to report on the training results of the group at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis., this summer.
McIntyre will work with a Redbird flight instructor twice a day in a full-motion simulator and then practice in the sim alone between lessons. “He’ll do six to eight hours of sim work a day,” Harnagel said. Two hours of study for the oral exam will round out each day.
“Sounds normal, yikes!” McIntyre said jokingly after learning the details of the intensive training program. “I knew it was going to be a lot. It’s all aviation, it’s all airplanes.” The long days and intense study will be worth it in the end, McIntyre said, when he’ll have the freedom “to be able to move when I need to move,” something that’s critical in his role serving an island chain.