Neil Bradon's journey to become a private pilot took him from his home in the United Kingdom to the blue skies of Chandler, Ariz., and eventually to his first visit to AOPA Aviation Summit 2012.
“My first day here has taught me that I need to be more adventurous,” said Bradon, who became a private pilot in June. He spent his first day in Palm Springs, Calif., attending educational sessions, meeting pilot friends he has made on Twitter and Facebook, and taking lots of photos.
Bradon has loved aviation since he was a child, when he would read copies of the U.K.'s Pilot magazine and attend airshows with his father. He once thought he'd like to become an air traffic controller. But nobody in his family was a pilot, and given the cost of learning to fly he didn't think he would get that opportunity.
In the ensuing years Bradon went to work in the semiconductor industry, but the desire to fly never left him. He took his first flight lesson in 2000. When he and his family moved to Ireland in 2007, he tried to begin training in earnest, flying out of Weston Airport (EIWT), about 10 miles south of Dublin. “I would stop-start because of work, financial, and family obligations,” he said. “I would fly four or five hours and something would come up.” His progress was further hindered when he was transferred to Belgium for four years. He investigated flight schools there but was told that ground school classes were taught in French only.
A weekly commute between Belgium and the United Kingdom via the airlines gave Bradon a taste of aviation, but it wasn't enough. In 2011 he learned that Intel Corp. was recruiting for positions in the United States. He applied and was hired to work at Intel's Arizona location.
Once settled in the United States, Bradon went immediately to Chandler Air Service Inc. at Chandler Municipal Airport. He says he got an extremely professional briefing with a flight instructor—something he had never received at other flight schools. With consistent instruction and great weather, he soloed in 10 hours. During his first solo cross-country to Tucson, he landed parallel to an F-16. “I just loved that,” he says. “I still have a huge passion for air traffic control.”
Bradon passed his private pilot practical test in June 2012 and has been flying nearly every weekend, taking up friends and co-workers to share the excitement of aviation. His wife, Amanda—who had encouraged him to begin flight lessons—was one of his first passengers. He has taken his children—Matthew, 9, and Emer, 7—on $100 hamburger flights.
Bradon will remain in the United States for about a year, and has decided that he'll spend his remaining time here flying for fun—trying a new airplane each month (he's got a date with a Piper Dakota when he gets back from Summit). And he'll broaden his horizons a bit by flying a little farther from his home base. “There's so much fun to be had, so many places to go,” he says. “I need to be more adventurous. I'm spending my life within 40 miles of Sky Harbor.”