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Setting aside 'distractions,' scholarship recipient earns ticketSetting aside 'distractions,' scholarship recipient earns ticket

Brian Gustin has a colorful way of describing how he felt when he took off on the short hop from Prosser, Washington, to Hermiston, Oregon, where a designated pilot examiner, and a private pilot checkride, awaited his arrival.

Brian Gustin. Photo by James Willard.

“I could have run out of fuel and the butterflies in my stomach would have kept me aloft,” said the semi-retired electrical engineer and volunteer firefighter.

Gustin had plenty of fuel remaining, of course, when he landed in Hermiston. And the butterflies disappeared—as they usually do—when the checkride got going. After a long day of oral examination, flying, some vexing moments processing paperwork online, and finding himself and his DPE temporarily locked out of the office after the flight, Gustin finally returned to Prosser Airport a new private pilot.

A dramatic finish for an aviation adventure launched somewhat tentatively during the snowbound quiet of the previous winter. Suffering from a bit of the winter blahs, Gustin, 53, had picked up an old flight training manual to pass some time. Quickly he realized that the doldrums disappeared (like butterflies) as soon as he immersed himself in reading the words of the late flight training author and inspiration to countless pilots, William K. Kershner.

Spring came, and Gustin started flight lessons, a goal thwarted in the past by a variety of life’s “distractions.”


He soloed at 20 hours. By September 2016, Gustin had launched into solo cross-countries, at which point his flight instructor, Robert (R.J.) Blahut, scheduled his checkride for Sept. 16.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, however, and Gustin was taking a short break for the Labor Day holiday when he learned that the AOPA Foundation had awarded him a Richard R. and Gretchen E. Harper Scholarship in Memory of Richard R. Harper as one of 17 scholarship recipients in the 2016 AOPA Flight Training Scholarship program.

That relieved his training program’s budget crunch at a key moment, because his goal had been to wrap up the project before October, when the weather in south-central Washington State can be dicey, with high winds churning up low-level turbulence over the hilly terrain, he explained. (How hilly? An early training technique he had learned was to climb after takeoff with the nose of the Cessna 172 pinned to 12,280-foot-high Mount Adams, visible to the west of Prosser.)

Learning to fly also added some entertaining detail to Gustin’s armchair watching of airplanes passing high above the Cascade Range once he noticed that a Victor airway, V4, passes almost directly above his house as it wends its way toward Seattle.

Victor 4? That sounds like instrument-pilot talk.

Well yes, Gustin responds, he didn’t rest on his laurels after the checkride, but had soon donned a view-limiting device and accomplished about a dozen hours of simulated instrument training, not to mention going up a few times just to do some touch and goes, and enjoy the view.

Gustin also has begun looking into the possibility of becoming an aircraft owner, for starters by following up a lead about a Cessna Cardinal RG that might become available as a rental, and could be sized up for potential purchase.

“That would fit our plans. We want to do some cross-countries,” he said, looking ahead to traveling with his wife.

When asked if he had any advice for others getting ready to take a flight test, Gustin’s response could be summed up as not to trust butterflies.

“If your flight instructor says you’re ready, you’re ready,” he said.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: AOPA Foundation, Flight Training, Student

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