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Accidental CFIs

Four paths to the right seat

When I moved from California’s Bay area to Champaign, Illinois, to pursue graduate studies in mathematics, I noticed the “Learn to Fly” sign at the local airport.

Cirrus Aircraft CFI Max Trescott is an enthusiastic and engaging instructor for those students and owners interested in the company’s Vision Jet.
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Max Trescott, a professional aviation educator and the 2008 National CFI of the Year, shares tips for advanced IFR flying during a workshop at AOPA's 2018 Carbondale, Ill., Fly-In. Photo by Mike Collins.

Karlston MartinBut it didn’t take a doctoral degree in mathematics to realize that my salary as a graduate teaching assistant wasn’t enough to pay for flight training. It was only after earning tenure at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee that I headed out to the local airport and signed up for flying lessons.

As luck would have it, Sewanee’s airport was home to legendary author and aerobatic flight instructor William Kershner and he encouraged me to combine my interests in mathematics and aviation and to pursue a flight instructor certificate. I had no idea at the time that he was coaching me to take over aerobatics instruction in Sewanee. I love the technical side of aviation and use mathematics as a lens through which to understand flight.

Other instructors have found fulfillment as “accidental CFIs” like I have.

Max Trescott spent the first 25 years of his career in a variety of sales and marketing positions at Hewlett-Packard. One day his friend Tim Johnson said, “I’m becoming a CFI and you should too.” For Trescott, that was an enticing challenge and one that changed the arc of his career. He now instructs full time, and when he decided to specialize in Cirrus aircraft, including the Vision Jet, demand for his expertise only increased. His tenure in HP sales taught him the value of understanding a client’s needs to tailor an effective training program.

Beyond flight instructing, Trescott records his weekly Aviation News Talk podcast to share the insights he picks up regularly from colleagues, students, and even what he learns when he gets a curve ball on a training flight. Aviation News Talk consistently ranks among the top aviation podcasts.

As an expert in glass cockpit instruction, he has authored training manuals on WAAS GPS as well as the Garmin G1000 and was honored as the national 2008 FAA certificated flight instructor of the year. Ever the student himself, Trescott plans to earn a new rating this year simply for the continued challenge.

Sarah RovnerU.S. Army veteran Sarah Rovner worked as a network engineer and enjoyed aviation as a hobby. But she admired her instructors and realized that she could develop an even higher level of professionalism, knowledge, and skills if she switched to the right seat. As a part-time instructor, Rovner specializes in tailwheel endorsements and backcountry instruction, although she has found the time to shepherd many private, instrument, and commercial students toward their certificates and ratings. She flies the Boeing 737, and since she enjoyed instructing, she became a simulator instructor at SkyWest before moving on to the majors.

Rovner credits flight instructing for paving the way toward a business in ferrying airplanes all over the world, including transoceanic flights. She is a FAA Safety Team lead representative as well as a designated pilot examiner, and holds pilot certificates in four different countries. When not flying professionally, she flies her Piper Super Cub Patches. Rovner says that “Being a CFI has allowed me to learn a lot about myself and have a positive impact on the future of general aviation.”

As a 13-year-old, Karlston Martin’s aviation journey began with a remote-controlled (RC) Cox Gooney Bird that taught him about the mechanics of flight. He later pursued general aviation as a hobby and as a means of travel with his wife, Ebony, and sons Elijah and Kameron.

Martin credits his “amazing circle of CFI mentors” as inspiration to move forward on his commercial and CFI certificates, especially when he heard from other pilots—who didn’t share his training experience—that quality instruction can be lacking. He earned his flight instructor certificate in September 2020 and enjoys teaching after work and on the weekends.

As a full-time senior software test engineer, Martin works on a data analytics team to assist clients in making the best decisions possible. Analogously, he helps his flight students “understand the what, the why, and the how” in making their aviation decisions. For example, “the what might be adding flaps and the student needs to understand why we’re making that change and how it will affect the airplane.” He often uses his previous experience to share aerodynamic principles with his students using RC airplanes.

Martin says, “I love being an influential part of my student’s journey and witnessing the aha moments. Those aha moments make it all worth it.”

Catherine Cavagnaro
Catherine Cavagnaro is an aerobatics instructor ( and professor of mathematics at Sewanee: The University of the South.

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