Red Bull Air Race World Championship points leader Michael Goulian, hot off his win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, reminded Redbird Migration flight training professionals that they were “setting the hook” for future aviators.
Goulian drew comparisons between air racing and flight instruction during the opening keynote presentation of the two-day learning seminar at the AOPA You Can Fly Academy in Frederick, Maryland. About 350 flight instructors, aviation educators, and college teachers registered for the eighth annual conference.
The airshow pilot and AOPA member said he never forgot his roots as a flight instructor. He added that a positive attitude, confidence, preparation, and teamwork were the keys to his competitive success and the secrets to providing an effective learning experience for students. “That magic just works miracles with students,” he said.
He recently spoke to an instructor who was cheering him on from the race course who considered teaching as a stepping stone to the airlines. Goulian said he reminded that person to “enjoy every one” of his students, and to nurture them into competent and confident pilots. “Your first job is maybe your most important job because you are setting the hook” for future aviators, “so don’t throw it away,” and instead, “enjoy the journey.”
After a particularly bad Red Bull race performance where he “screwed everything up,” Goulian said his teammates came to him after he landed and told him to believe in himself. He implied that students might be disappointed after a lesson with poor airmanship or a sloppy landing, but that was precisely when instructors needed to shoulder their mentorship role.
“Remember, flying is a dream for a lot of people,” he continued. “Our students want to fly with someone who is confident, and we have to inspire trust and faith in them.”
He also advocated for pilots to look around at their local airports and seek opportunities to open the doors of aviation to others. “If there’s a kid at the fence [of an airport] take the time to invite them in to see your airplane.”
After a social hour where instructors exchanged ideas and made acquaintances, Redbird Co-Chairman and past AOPA President Craig Fuller welcomed the educators, telling them they were “the best,” and noting that aviation careers “look better now than they did five or 10 years ago. The rest of the world finally realizes that, ‘Yes, we do have a pilot shortage.’”
Former Harley-Davidson motorcycle sales and marketing vice president and Cirrus pilot Jerry Wilke drew parallels between motorcycling and aviation, and he stressed loyalty and commitment during a morning keynote presentation. He said pilots are passionate about flying because “it is who we are.”
He encouraged flight instructors to build personal relationships with their students rather than thinking of a logged flight as a transaction and money in the till. “Relationships need constant care and feeding” to be effective, he continued. “When somebody walks through that door they can’t just be a number.” He said that at Harley-Davidson, a motorcycle sale was “the beginning” of a customer-manufacturer relationship, “not the end.”
He said aviation could take a page from Harley’s playbook to define “passion, emotion, and commitment” as the cornerstones to build future aviators. He closed by telling flight instructors to embrace their position as “the heroes of tomorrow’s aviators.”
Recreational Aviation Foundation President Bill McGlynn said many flight students aspire to earn the private pilot certificate and then lose interest in aviation. He advocated flying to a spectacular outdoor destination as a post-certificate goal that would build “memories that will last a lifetime.” He added that aviation was an efficient means to explore many of nature’s wonders “that you couldn’t possibly have done on horseback or on foot.”
Flight instructors participated in 16 breakout sessions on everything from maximizing use of a Redbird flight simulator to creating customer service protocols, mixed-reality training, marketing, and flying clubs.
A signature event was the Redbird Challenge aviation triathlon in which teams competed in an airplane and airport trivia quiz, a paper airplane golf tournament, and a “blind landing.” Conference rooms and hallways at the AOPA You Can Fly Academy were packed with enthusiastic instructors as they strategized for superiority while red paper airplanes flew toward the “pins” nearby.
2018 AOPA Flight Training Experience CFI of the Year Mike Biewenga appeared to have the upper hand on the landing contest as teammates coached him a little left, then a little right, while he captured several in-air gates on the screen 180 degrees opposite of his back, but a crash landing did him in.
The free seminar also attracted 2017 Flight Training Experience top award winners Zoan Harclerode from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Jamie Patterson-Simes of Anchorage, Alaska, who paid their own way to stay on top of the latest flight training developments.
San Marcos, Texas-based Redbird President and COO Charlie Gregoire had his hands full shuffling groups of participants to the different events, but he was enthusiastic about the turnout. He credited AOPA’s You Can Fly facility and the economy for the large turnout, which was “about twice” the number of professionals registered for the 2017 event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
There are plans to move the learning seminar around the country to “keep it fresh” and to expose more flight instructors to its benefits and to the camaraderie they share. Gregoire said the 2019 Redbird Migration would be Oct. 15 to 17 at the Wings over the Rockies Air and Space Museum at Denver’s Centennial Airport.
“We’ve never charged for registration and we feel this [Migration] makes flight schools better, so it’s good for the entire industry,” he added. “Every one of the people that show up for this conference sees a value in it, and I think that’s great.”