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Louisiana Guard members use downtime to earn certificates

Three members of the Louisiana Army National Guard have been putting their downtime and Army benefits to use by earning pilot certificates and ratings while on an extended deployment in the Washington, D.C., area.

Louisiana National Guard members (left to right) Capt. Stephen Gancarcik, Sgt. 1st Class Joey Airhart, and Sgt. Brandon Sevin have been using their off-duty time and Army benefits to earn pilot certificates and ratings while on a long-term deployment. They are flying with Aviation Adventures in Manassas, Virginia. Photo by Jill Tallman.

Capt. Stephen Gancarcik, Sgt. 1st Class Joey Airhart, and Sgt. Brandon Sevin serve in the 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment in New Orleans. They have been stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, since arriving in 2023, and they will return home in May. All three have been flying diligently with Aviation Adventures in Manassas, Virginia, when they’re off duty.

Gancarcik, a helicopter pilot who flies the Sikorsky UH–60 Black Hawk and the Eurocopter UH–72 Lakota, discovered on a previous deployment that he could train at Aviation Adventures to add fixed-wing ratings. He told Airhart and Sevin about the flight school, and they were eager to get into the air as well.

Sevin began flight training in 2013 but had to stop when he ran out of money. He came to Aviation Adventures with a singular focus and, on April 23, earned his private pilot certificate. He was able to take the flight test with just 35 hours—the minimum number allowed under FAR Part 141. He’s now planning to complete an aviation university degree in the hopes of joining the airlines when he leaves the military.

“He is the only person we’ve ever had that has finished the 35-hour program in 35 hours,” said Bob Hepp, Aviation Adventures’ founder and one of the school's flight instructors. “He was really focused.”

“I felt it was rough,” Sevin said of his checkride. “We had a lot of thermals. But I stayed within the [practical test] standards.” He said Washington, D.C.’s complicated airspace took some getting used to.

“The worst thing we have at home is the New Orleans Bravo, which I call ‘B-minus’ because [the controllers] are so accommodating,” said Gancarcik. He is finishing up a multiengine fixed-wing commercial add-on.

Airhart completed the fixed-wing instrument instructor checkride in December 2023 and will finish his deployment with a fixed-wing multiengine instrument rating. He also used some of his off-duty time to flight instruct for Aviation Adventures. Back home in New Orleans, he is a full-time flight instructor with Gulf Coast Aviation and has received an invitation from Frontier Airlines to join an upcoming training class.

The guardsmen have been paying for their training with an Army benefit called Credentialing Assistance, which provides up to $4,000 per year to pay for special training programs and certificates. Airhart praised Aviation Adventures for being a military-friendly flight school.

Hepp, who served in the U.S. Army for 21 years and learned to fly using the GI Bill, said he always intended for the school to make the same opportunities available to veterans and pay it forward to others in the military once Aviation Adventures became Part 141 certified. Aviation Adventures has locations at airports in Virginia, including Manassas, Leesburg, Stauffer, Warrenton, and Winchester.

“I’ve flown with all three of these guys and they are exceptional pilots,” Hepp said.

Jill W. Tallman
Jill W. Tallman
AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who is part-owner of a Cessna 182Q.
Topics: Career, People

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