More people are learning to fly later in life, when time and money constraints ease. Few of them, however, take to flying with the zeal of Howard Wolvington, who was named the FAA’s 2014 Flight Instructor of the Year.
Wolvington learned to fly in his mid-50s after becoming hooked on aviation while learning to fly radio-controlled airplanes with his son. “I actually wanted something to do with my son,” he told AOPA. “He was a young man of about 10, and I was looking for father-son activities—that turned out to be radio-controlled airplanes. In high school, he got his glider certificate and [eventually] became a flight instructor.” Wolvington postposted his own flight lessons until his children finished college.
Wolvington was working for The Boeing Co. at the time, living in Virginia, and learned to fly at Manassas Regional Airport. In 1997, he moved to Seattle, Washington, to work at headquarters, and became active with the Boeing Employees Flying Association (BEFA). “I got most of my certificates and ratings at BEFA, and became president and operations officer of the organization.” He has since retired from Boeing, and is a full-time flight instructor. He still works extensively with the flying club, and also instructs independently in the Seattle area, specializing in technically advanced aircraft.
Wolvington’s accolade from the FAA means that “I’ve become a little more in demand as a speaker,” he said. His topic of choice is Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and how situational awareness of other aircraft benefits accident prevention. He cites the May 28, 2012, midair collision of a Piper Cherokee and a Beechcraft Bonanza near Warrenton, Virginia—a crash that was investigated by Canada’s Transportation Safety Board because it involved employees of the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board. “Neither aircraft had a traffic avoidance system in it, and while one was in fact in radio communications with air traffic control, there was a collision alert, but the controller did not judge a collision hazard, and he was distracted by working with other IFR pilots.”
“I think ADS-B has a lot to offer pilots in terms of situational awareness,” Wolvington said. “If you read the accident report, they don’t end up blaming either of those pilots for the accidents, nor do they blame the controller, but on inherent limitations of the see-and-avoid system unaugmented by collision avoidance systems. We need collision avoidance systems effectively so people know where to look for purposes of see and avoid.”
While he continues to flight instruct, Wolvington has been accepted as a designated pilot examiner candidate, and will take that class in Oklahoma City in January 2015. “Hopefully by the first part of next year I will be able to give checkrides,” he said.
Ironically, the son who preceded Wolvington in aviation no longer flight instructs—he works for Nissan Motors.