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No two days are the same for glider instructors

Glider CFI Shad Coulson is living his dream, but he didn’t always know glider flying was his true passion.
Advanced Pilot
World Gliding Championships team member, aerobatic sailplane pilot, tow plane pilot, and Arizona Soaring Operations Manager Shad Coulson oversees sailplane operations at Estrella Sailport in Maricopa, Arizona, May 22, 2022. Photo by David Tulis.

He grew up in Colorado Springs with aspirations to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy and fly something “fast and pointy.” But after discovering that he was ever so slightly colorblind, he pivoted. “It’s not like I can’t tell you [what color] that is, or I can’t safely drive a car…but enough where I have a ‘cannot fly at night’ on my medical.… If you fight against your limitations, you can keep them, or you can just take what you get and charge.”

When Coulson started flying in 2008, he connected most with powered paragliders, eventually flying them in 20 countries and on six continents. In 2017 after working abroad, he moved back to the United States. On a road trip he and his now-wife took that spring, they stopped at Arizona Soaring for a glider ride. He took a flight with the owner, Jason Stevens, who in addition to being a CFI is an accomplished competition aerobatic pilot.

“I was hooked. Just could not stop thinking about it. It captivated me.”

He emailed Stevens in fall 2017 asking for a job and started working on the line. Over time, he started working in the office, earned his commercial and CFI glider certificates, and stuck with his interest in glider aerobatics.

Coulson won a national title at the glider national championships in 2021. This year, he competed on the U.S. Aerobatic National Team in France at the World Aerobatic Championships for the first time; Stevens was also on the team.

“To be able to represent your country on a world stage is pretty mind boggling.”

Now officially the operations manager, Coulson also flight instructs, manages students’ training, completes recurrent training with CFIs, and schedules checkrides with designated pilot examiners. No day is ever exactly the same as another, and opportunity, he says, is everywhere in aviation if you seek out what you love.

Coulson says glider flying is for everyone and encourages pilots to give it a try. He also takes the responsibility of growing aviation seriously.

“General aviation dies if we don’t try to inspire the next generation. We have a couple scholarships we offer, and the national organization, the Soaring Society of America, has some scholarships that they offer for young folks.”

Arizona Soaring operates year-round at the Estrella Sailport (E68) in Maricopa, Arizona.

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Alyssa J. Miller

Alicia Herron

Publications Content Producer
Publications Content Producer Alicia Herron joined AOPA in 2018. She is a multiengine-rated commercial pilot with advanced ground and instrument flight instructor certificates. She is based in Los Angeles and enjoys tailwheel flying best.

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