Category: Dreams Realized

The Champ is back! A story of a Father, his Son and the airplane that they share

Tailwheel Endorsement & Flight Review

As 2019 was winding down I received a telephone call from Joel Elliott. He had not flown for over twenty years. Was in need of a Flight Review, a Tailwheel Endorsement and more. The goal to fly the 1946 Champ that he had just restored.

Over the next three months he shared the story behind the airplane and the passion that had driven him to complete this tribute to his Father. As I was conceiving this post I asked Joel to put this story in writing. What follows is a wonderful story about a man, a family and the airplane that was part of their life.

N81927 circa 1963
Jacque Elliott circa 1963 or 1964

Jacque Elliott~The First Restoration

The earliest logbook entry I found was dated March 17, 1954.   Where or what the Champion had been doing between its roll out at the factory eight years earlier has been lost in time.  What I do know is that the entry shows it had an estimated total airframe time of 1500 hours and had been completely recovered with Grade A cotton and Butyrate dope.  Another interesting discovery was that aa “belly tank” had been installed which indicated it was used for aerial application.   

My father Jacque Elliott bought it from John Wells of the Central Valley Airport in Mercedes, Texas.  The original bill of sale shows my father bought it for $10 in 1962! 

From what my sister tells me, the plane was in pieces and my father restored it in the carport of our house and she remembers helping him brush on the Nitrate dope. He converted it to a “7DC” which allowed for the installation of a C-85-12F with an electric starter and a whopping 15-amp generator. This gave him the amperage to install position lights, radio and a landing light.   He had the wings covered by a local repair shop and had the wing tips “clipped” and a new factory approved set of fiberglass wingtips.   

I never thought to ask how he came up with the paint scheme, but he painted it with Randolph’s Tennessee Red and Juneau White.  He always had a “visual eye” which my own daughter got.   

I don’t know if it was his intention, but he used the Champ to tow his friend in his glider and as well as some banner towing. He flew up and down the state of Texas when Lyndon Baines Johnson was running for the United States congress. He also did aerial photography using a military surplus high-altitude camera from World War II for the county agricultural department.

Earliest Memories

Some of my earliest memories are of he and I going to the airport and going flying.  My mother didn’t seem to think anything about him taking a three-year-old out flying in a plane he restored in the carport.  Having been a Navy veteran serving as a tail gunner in SBD-3 Dauntless dive bomber’s at the Battle of the Coral Sea launching off the USS Lexington. Eventually, as an NCO flying Hellcats out Corpus Christi Naval Air Station must have given her faith in him and his flying abilities.  

We moved to North Texas in 1965 and the Champion came with us.   My father went to work for Southern Airways as a civilian pilot at Fort Walters, in Mineral Wells, teaching regular Army student pilots how to fly helicopters.  He made an arrangement with a local farmer to rent a pasture and we had our own air strip. He and I would go flying to Possum Kingdom dam and then to Rangerville, Texas for breakfast and then back home. My father installed an ultra-low volume spray unit on the Champ and sprayed pecans and cattle with Malathion.

At times, my sister and I would help my dad pull the wings off the plane, mount them on the pick-up truck and hook the tail up to the tow hitch and we’d pull the plane into town so he could do work on it at home. It all seemed to us to be perfectly normal yet looking back, we got a lot of strange looks from people.

At one point, my father came home and said that he’d been made an offer to trade the Champ for a boat.  There was a resounding “No way” from my sister and me.    “Doble” was like a brother to us. The Champ went everywhere we went as a family.  Our Champ had been given the name “Doble” pronounced like “noble”.   The story I was told is that when I was younger, I couldn’t pronounce my first name, Joel. It sounded more like “Doble” and So I named the Champ Doble. 

My father and I were the last to fly in it in 1977. He asked if I wanted to go fly down to Padre Island and go fishing. Padre Island didn’t have an airport, you landed on the beach.  This was something my father and mother use to do in a Stearman he owned before buying the Aeronca.

Relegated to the Back of the Hanger

Sometime after that flight, my father decided to pull the wings off and stored Doble in the back of the hangar.  He was too busy as a crop duster to fly it and I was more interested in surfing and girls.

Champ in CA before the restoration
“Doble” in California and in need of some TLC

My father passed away in 1998 and the only thing I wanted was the Champ.   I brought it to California, in 2004, and planned to restore it. Unfortunately, family and work got in the way.   The real work wouldn’t begin until 2016. Since my father had made changes in the Champ customizing it his way, I decided to do some small things too. The goal was to update everything that could be updated and yet keep the original color scheme. First, I went with Stits Polyfiber cover system instead of the Grade A cotton and Nitrate/Butyrate dope.  Second, I wanted to do the O-200 conversion STC that gave the C-85 more torque.  

Joel Elliott~The Second Restoration

My initial budget and what I thought I’d spend was, what I thought would be realistic. I knew I could do the covering and paint work myself, which I did.   However, the engine was another story. My Mechanic at Whiteman airport is John Clausen and together we disassembled the engine and sent everything off for inspection.  The first bad news, the cam shaft was beyond limits. Then I got the call from the cylinder shop telling me I had four “boat anchors” aka cylinders and what did I want to do with them since they were cracked and could not be repaired? I had to sit down once I heard the price for 4 new cylinders.  Apparently, there has been a surge in C-85’s being used in restorations and the price of C-85 cylinders has gone up.  But, J & J Air Parts in Pleasanton, Texas told me that the O-200 cylinder and C-85 cylinder are the identical except that the O-200 had “3” valve springs instead of 2 per valve and would be less expensive. Score! The block was good and came back yellow tagged. “Phew” was all I could say. I found an NOS camshaft for the C-85 for $900 on eBay in its original box!  That was more good news. 

The real work of restoration began in 2016

My dad had been using a Stromberg carburetor and Eisenman magnetos. I changed them all for a more modern one, a Marvel Scribner carb with an accelerator pump and a set of Bendix mags.  All were sent off for servicing and yellow tagging.

I got rid of the original starter and generator and installed the lightweight B & C starter and 60-amp alternator. 

…smells coming out of the cockpit were a mixture of Malathion, dust and rat droppings.

When it came time to disassemble the fuselage, I carefully took measurements and photographed everything prior to removing the old envelope.   The smells coming out of the cockpit were a mixture of Malathion, dust and rat droppings. A real mess to say the least. All the wood on the airframe had to be replaced.  Some wood pieces I bought from Aircraft Spruce and some I made.  The instrument’s were sent off for rebuilding and calibration and the fuselage bead blasted and primed with an aircraft grade epoxy primer.  The landing gear oleo struts where also sent off for rebuilding at an authorized repair station. 

The wings were stripped of the cloth and all the metal parts removed, bead blasted and primed.  The spars were inspected for rot and the “one time” inspection for rib nails coming out.  A new coat of wood varnish was applied to the spars and then everything reassembled.  New leading edges from Wag Aero were installed as the originals were too beat up.

I built a paint booth out of 2” PVC and painter plastic and did all the covering and paint work in my hangar.  The old saying that if you want to finish a project, “you have to make it a point to work on it every day” is so true.   I’d get off work and come out to the hangar and put four hours in.  Saturday and Sunday were eight-hour days. I was on target to have it done in 3 years.  But a new job got in the way and it took another two years before all was done and it was time to assemble the plane.  This happened in September and October of 2019.  I can say with certainty that it was a complete ground up restoration. I was able to polish out the original canopy.  I had to be careful to not cause more damage.   While I can see some micro fractures, it’s hardly noticeable when you’re sitting in the cockpit.

Joel Elliott
I’d get off work and come out to the hangar and put four hours in.  Saturday and Sunday were eight-hour days.

I have installed wing tip strobes and upgraded my radio along with the required transponder with Mode C and a uAvionix taillight to enable me to fly in Airspace that requires ADS-B. 

March 29, 2020~Back in the Air!

First flight after restoration
March 29, 2020 Whiteman Airport

The first flight launched on Sunday March 29, 2020 and was “uneventful”.   I had been going around and round about having someone else do the first flight instead of myself.  I wanted to do it since my father would have been the first to do it after he had restored it.   I was doing high speed taxi tests the week before and finally decided to go for it.   I prepared for this by driving around the airport scouting possible locations to put down should it be necessary, doing emergency procedure drills while sitting in the cockpit and remembering to “never try to turn back” to the airport.  If I lost the engine, I would put it down in a spot I had scouted out.  I had another pilot also preflight the plane as I had done.  Pulled the inspection covers, the hole thing.   

I taxied out, did the run up, called the tower and requested a high-speed taxi test to help get the oil temperature up, had my friend come over and open the door to check everything with me one last time. With daughter and friends looking on, I called the tower and requested a “box pattern” for the first flight.

The tower approved the box pattern and cleared me for take off.   I taxied into position lining up with the center line and slowly applied full throttle.   The tail came up almost immediately, I smoothly applied back pressure and Doble lifted off!  I initially maintained an 80 mph climb on the upwind leg to get the feel of the plane.   

There was no noticeable “wing heaviness” in either wing, I must have rigged it correctly, but I did have to apply some left rudder.  The trim tab might need adjusting.  I started to trim the elevators and got a surprise.   I had the cables opposite what they should be, down was up and up was down. This wasn’t something catastrophic, so I continued climbing to my assigned altitude and flew.

After 20 minutes, I called the tower and made a length wise pass down the runway for pictures and then came in and landed.  I took the plane back up Monday and Tuesday and then work and the weather has me grounded. I’m limiting myself to “learning” the plane in calm winds for right now.

No Longer in the Back Seat

There is something inherently cool about this, going from a passenger whom sat in the back seat looking at my dad from behind, as he flew us around to different places, to now being the person who is doing the flying.   It’s not surreal, feels more like the completion of a loop coming full circle. 


Flying airplanes in Alaska is like leaving home for college only better!

In the beginning…

This is the perfect picture to begin this post. Brittany Wilderom, it was her way of leaving home for college only better. This is the next chapter in a story that started a number of years ago in her quest to become a professional pilot.

I do not remember when we met, but it must have been about eight years ago. In an early conversation she mentioned that her dream was to be a Missionary Pilot and she was in the early stages of her quest to achieve this dream. She was full of enthusiasm,  short on money and would go on to work at many different jobs to pay for her training.

One of my earliest memories is seeing her driving the fuel truck for Western Cardinal around the Camarillo airport. A young women driving a fuel truck, servicing airplanes, was unusual and for me memorable. It was clear to me that she was willing to do whatever it took to earn her wings. One of the requirements of becoming a Missionary Pilot was that you had to possess an A&P rating in order to work on the airplane that you would be flying in remote parts of this world. So, she gets a job as an A&P assistant to learn and earn her way to her goal. Suffice it to say that she was very creative and found many ways to fly and to build her hours. During this time she fell in love with flying tailwheel airplanes, especially the Cub.

So you want to be an airline Captain?

Catherine Airline Captain

You learn how to fly, you get an instrument, commercial and a multi-engine rating. You have less than 500 hours in your logbook. Then what? Go to Hawaii and interview for a job, right? Not many people that I know would do this. But what do I know? Catherine did exactly this and as chance would have it, she was offered a position as second in command flying Cessna Caravan’s. During the interview she was told that she needed to improve her skills flying a G1000 instrument suite and that she needed to make it happen ASAP. So what did she do?

She flew home California to figure out a plan to master the G1000, improve her instrument skills and then go back to Hawaii in less than two months.

This is where our story begins.

Catherine came to my office around Thanksgiving 2017 and shared her challenge with me. We put together a plan, based on guidance that I had received from her potential employer and to enhance the skills that she felt needed some attention.

All of our training together was conducted in a Redbird FMX AATD with a G1000 avionics suite. Catherine was totally focused on success. She not only needed to master the process and procedures of the G1000, in the instrument environment, she also needed to memorize the callouts and flows required as being part of a two pilot crew. The beauty of simulation is that we were able to accomplish this in the environment in which she would be flying, same approaches, airports, terrain. It was a challenge for her and fun for me because this was more than teaching, it was making it real for her. She shared that “I was pushing her to her limits by moving her out of her comfort zone.” She later shared that she was not going to “sugar-coat her feelings-there were several days that she was really frustrated.”

This training continued to the end of December. Then she was gone! I missed her energy, intensity, motivation and need to be as good as she could be. Then on January 16, 2018 I received a text from her saying that she was officially hired as a SIC pilot for Mokulele and a note saying all the hard work had paid off. The picture above was taken a few weeks later.

Over the next ten months we stayed in touch via text and she would send me images of her life flying between the islands. She was happy and moving closer and closer to her goal of upgrading to Captain.

This image was special because the note she sent with it said that they were being vectored to land on Runway 04 at Daniel K. Inouye International in Honolulu. It made me smile because we had done this very same approach (same visual) during our training in the simulator.

This is a very neat picture of a Blood Moon that she took just after relocating to Hawaii in January 2018. Nice picture of the Mokulele Cessna Caravan.

In October of 2018 I received a text from Catherine asking if I might have some time available in December, because she needed to prepare for her upgrade to Captain. Well of course I did. This time around she had matured as a pilot, and a person. She had almost a year of experience winging around the Hawaiian Islands, based on the Big Island of Hawaii, and knew exactly what she needed to do and how she wanted to approach her training. I really enjoyed seeing how much her confidence had improved and the quality of the questions she was asking. As we bid farewell, after our training I knew she was ready. She was a bit less sure but there was no doubt in my mind that I would be getting a text saying that she had successfully upgraded to Captain.

The smile and four stripes on her shoulders says it all. Congratulations Catherine! I look forward to watching you realize each step of your journey to becoming a Captain over and over again.

The smile says it all!

As a postscript to this story it is important to acknowledge the role that Catherine’s father played in this part of her journey. It is very expensive living in Hawaii, and we all know that entry level pilot positions do not pay all that well. We all should be so blessed with angels helping us along our path(s) to wherever we are going.

Determination, focus and commitment to excellence….well done!

When I first arrived at the Camarillo airport I met Joey Kirksee who was working as a “line guy” at the airport. I was immediately captivated by his energy, enthusiasm and joyful attitude. As I got to know him I discovered that he was on a mission to become a pilot in the Navy and so many of our visits focused on his goal and the progress he was making both on the ground and in the air as he was determined to be as prepared as possible as he worked his way down the path toward being selected for flight school by the Navy.

The dream started long before this day.

The dream started long before this day.

It was not an easy path and it did not happen overnight. He worked at the airport and continued with his studies towards his Bachelors degree. The goal was clear but as with most things in life there are always challenges and hurdles. Watching Joey navigate them all was just plain fun because none of it seemed to matter to him. He was on mission. I guess that I’m repeating myself but it was his focus and drive, to achieve his dream, that I want to share with anyone reading this post. Joey relocated to San Diego to finish his degree and continued working at Montgomery Field. I missed seeing him around CMA but he would check in from time to time and it was clear that he was getting closer and closer to his goal. When he got the news that he had been accepted into the Naval Aviator program I remember how excited he was and how determined he was to make the most of this opportunity. Now that he was in he became ever more focused and clear that there was much more work to do and he set about successfully completing each objective on his way to his ultimate goal; flying jets in the
June 30, 2014 first solo in the T-45C

June 30, 2014 first solo in the T-45C

Navy. We had lunch over the Christmas holiday and Joey shared  with me how much fun he was having and how nervous he was about the upcoming selection process because he wanted to fly jets. During our visit I asked him about his experience and what he did to make it to this point in his training. I was interested because I mentor young people with aviation aspirations and clearly the path that Joey took is not an easy one and I wanted to share his experience with others. He didn’t hesitate with his answer; “I networked as much as I could and spent as much time as I could learning from others so that I would be fully prepared.Yesterday I received a text message from Joey. “Hey Mike just got selected for tailhook! Time to go fly jets off the boat!” If this wasn’t cool enough he followed up with another text that read “I finished #1 in my class and got selected to be out on the Commodores
The dream continues to get better.

The dream continues to get better.

List.” I had to call him and tell him how proud of him I was and to keep up the good work.

The moral to this story is determination, focus and commitment to excellence pays off. Congratulations young man, we are lucky to have you serving our country. Semper Fi.

Persistence ~ Frustration ~ Determination ~ The Dream ~ The Odyssey

Calveras County Google Earth

The dream began in Calaveras County

We begin this story when David Casarez was carving a runway out of a hillside in Calaveras County. David was a young man and in the process of building his reputation and his experience as an excavation contractor. After he completed the work he was given an opportunity to do some flying and the spark and his love of flight was ignited and he made a promise to himself that he would one day land on the runway that he had created.

Fast forward to December 24th, 2004 when David was introduced to me by a mutual friend who felt that I would be a good fit for him as a flight instructor. Neither of us ever imagined that as a result of this meeting that we would share an experience that lasted six years and created a friendship that will last forever.

At the time I was living in Monterey County and teaching at the Monterey Peninsula Airport (MRY). When we finished I was living in Ventura County and an instructor on the staff of CP Aviation. This is important because David lives in the Carmel Valley of Monterey County which is a 4 ½ hour drive from the airport that he called his home airport until December 24th, 2010. What happened during this time is a testament to David’s passion, persistence and will to become a Private Pilot.

David is dyslexic. Not just a little dyslexic but hugely challenged by this learning disability. When we met David was 41 and had gone through the education system at a time when it really did not know how to deal with students that could not succeed in a system that was structured for the “normal” student. Nonetheless, and with some help when he reached high school, David did what most people do when they are faced with this gift; he persevered and learned how to navigate and cope in a “normally sighted world” on his terms. This he did very well and was able to enter a trade that suited his love of the outdoors and his ability to see and understand how to sculpt and excavate the earth and more. He also passed his contractors license for the state of California and is very well respected by his peers.

Tailwheel Endorsement and first solo in N224RA

We started his training in a Cessna 172 and about the time we were getting ready for cross country flying David decided that he wanted to own a tailwheel airplane and so he purchased a Citabria 7GCAA N224RA and put it on leaseback at a local flight school. As we moved forward with his training there was this underlying and unspoken personal struggle of having to pass the knowledge test as part of the process of getting his Private Pilot certificate. He knew how hard he would have to study to pass the test and it brought back all the unpleasant memories of his years as a student. He attended and passed the ground school offered by the local community college and soon thereafter he took the knowledge test and did not pass it because he could not complete the test in the allotted time. Also, during this time, I relocated to Ventura and I was confident that David would continue his training with another instructor. As it turned out he was frustrated by not doing well on the written test and so he threw himself into his business and along with life’s other distractions did not focus on his flying. Also during this time his airplane was damaged in an accident, at the flight school, and was declared a total wreck and shipped away to be reincarnated in Minnesota.

His dream did not die but there were many obstacles that he needed to address if he was to achieve his goal of becoming a Private Pilot. I mentioned earlier that David is an avid outdoorsman and as such had fallen in love with the American Champion Scout. (8GCBC) when he saw one at the airport. Several years later I mentioned to him that there was a Scout for sale at Santa Paula and David jumped at the chance of owning N249SF. It was during this transaction that I told David that he could not take the airplane to Monterey and that it would stay in Santa Paula (SZP) until he was a Private Pilot and that I promised that I would guide him to the realization of his dream. This was the spring of 2009 and David had demonstrated very good flying skills but we still had some work to do to get him comfortable in his new airplane and to complete the rest of the requirements for the Private Pilot certificate. One of the requirements was a dual cross country. I suggested that we fly the airplane to AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI to complete this part of his training. He jumped at the opportunity and off we went to the Grand-daddy of fly-ins. It was a magnificent trip, loaded with learning and a fantastic way to experience the vastness and beauty of the United States. Unfortunately, life and David’s anxiety about passing the knowledge test continued to be a significant obstacle to achieving the goal. But hour-by-hour and requirement-by-requirement we got closer and closer and then there was only one obstacle left to clear; the knowledge test.

AirVenture 2009~Photo courtesy of Dave Miller

We sat down, developed a plan and began the arduous process of getting him ready for the written test. I became a nag to the highest power and David tried to find time to study and run his business during these very challenging economic times. He was lucky, he was busy and had lots of work. I was on a mission and pushed and pushed and pushed to keep him studying. In January 2009 the FAA issued Order 8080.6E which allows for a time waiver for an individual that can document a need for extra time to take a knowledge test. We applied for the waiver and received more time to take the test. Finally, the day arrived and he was ready. We would have been happy with 70% but as we would joke he scored 112% because he passed with an 82%. Now only one more obstacle remained the practical test.

The oral portion of the practical was still problematic because of the way that David hears and processes information. I had learned this from our hours together and so we worked and worked at ways to overcome these challenges. I’m sure there were times when he wished I would go far, far away and just leave him alone. No way, I had promised him that he was going to get the best Christmas present ever and there was nothing going to stand in the way. A few days before Thanksgiving David flew his airplane from SZP to MRY so he could prepare for the in-flight portion of the practical test. We had targeted five days before Christmas and scheduled his checkride for the 23rd.

He made the decision to close his business for the last two weeks of the year and focus on nothing but flying. Another obstacle was literally on the horizon, there were a string of very wet weather systems slated to move through the West Coast the week we had planned to focus on flying and David still had the plane in MRY. I called him and suggested that he get the airplane to SZP on the 12th otherwise he would not be able to return the airplane for the checkride. David agreed and flew the airplane south in order to beat the storms.

We started our review as scheduled and two days before the test date we sat down and conducted a mock oral moderated by Dennis Magdaleno the local Designated Pilot Examiner. David did very well, there were a few rough spots but he was very close. The week of the oral was as forecast, windy and wet, and yet it seemed that even Mother Nature was rooting for David and each day allowed us some time to fly and get ready for the big day.

The smiles say it all. Mission accomplished!!

December 23rd arrived the weather wasn’t perfect but by the time the oral was completed the sky was welcoming. His oral was almost flawless and his flying was near perfect. Here is a short video of his first takeoff as Pilot in Command.  Our excitement and joy was without bounds as David had achieved his dream of becoming a Private Pilot and on December 24th he left his truck in my driveway and flew his airplane home to its’ hanger in Monterey.

Last Friday David flew into SZP in a helicopter that was piloted by the friend that had introduced us six years ago. I had driven his truck to the airport and after lunch he was on his way back to Monterey and a life that will be filled with many adventures in his winged chariot. I’m sure one of these adventures will be to the airstrip in Calaveras County where this odyssey began.

“This will be a piece of cake”


~Mission Accomplished~

Who knows why we make the choices that we make? Some choices are forced upon us, others are the result of options presented to us and some are somewhat random and we just go for it. I’m not really clear as to what motivated Tim Patrick to choose to learn to fly and I’m not sure he is either, but he did, and I’m glad that he did. Choosing to learn to fly lead  Tim so far out of his comfort zone that it was two weeks before he even knew whether he was “on foot or horseback”.

Tim made the decision to study for and take the Private Pilot Knowledge Test before he had ever been at the controls of an airplane. He passed the test with a score in the 90’s, bought a headset and scheduled his first lesson. Now that I look back on this it was a clear sign as to the type of person that I would be sharing the cockpit of the Cessna trainer with. He was a man that had made a decision, was a man on a mission that he later admitted was stretching him to the limit. We flew almost every day until he soloed on the 8th of November (43 days after his first flight). Tim’s personality and personal style was very regimented and refined based on almost fifty years of perfecting “his world”.  Learning to fly requires a reordering of our thinking, polishing our hand-eye coordination, navigating in a 3-dimensional world, and learning a new language. Boy, did we have fun!

There were days when, I’m sure, that he wanted me to just jump out of the airplane and let him figure it out on his own. In reality he was figuring it out on his own as my role was to just make sure that he had enough feedback to achieve the desired outcome and to keep moving him forward.  Day after day we’d meet at the airport and each day he grew more confident and competent as a pilot. I will never forget when Tim checked in with me while at one of the stops on his solo cross country. He was jubilant and for Tim this means he was smiling broadly (I could hear it in his voice) as he is very reluctant to show how he really feels and I loved to try and make him laugh.

As 2009 was giving way to 2010 it was clear that Tim was ready for the Private Pilot Practical Test so we scheduled it for January 5, 2010 (about 3 1/2 months from the day we started). The reason that I share the time it took to complete this journey is that when Tim walked through the doors of CP Aviation on September 21st he was sure that he would be a pilot in 60 days. Not impossible but a challenge that must be measured against a myriad of factors that surround each of us as we endeavor to meet any new challenge. It took more than 60 days but who cares?

On the morning of January 5th Tim had one more hurdle to clear; the Private Pilot check ride. This was not going to be just a plain old vanilla check ride because the FAA would be sitting in as the Designated Pilot Examiner was also to be reviewed. When Tim was presented with this option he was more than willing to be the person that Dennis Renzelman, DPE would test during his review by the FAA. Needless to say all went well and Timothy Patrick ended this day a Private Pilot.

There is nothing more satisfying than participating in the process of helping someone achieve a goal. It is why I teach and why I am so grateful to those that allow me to share their adventure with them. Thank you Tim, it has been an honor and a privilege to watch you grow wings.

One last comment. Tim has a son serving in the Middle East with the United States Marine Corps (L/CPL Taylor Patrick) and having been a Marine myself this provided us with an additional bond. Tim shared with me that he was not going to tell Taylor about learning to fly until he achieved his goal. Tim is very proud of his son and the decision that he made to join the Marine Corps. It is my hope that Taylor will read this and through these few words have an opportunity to share in his Fathers’ extraordinary accomplishment. Semper Fi

A Dream from Behind the Wall


Captain Zeyssig at work on departure from Oceano, California

Robert Zeyssig was born and raised in a little town called Finsterwalde, about 1.5 driving hours south of Berlin  ten years before the Wall was breached and the border separating East from West Germany began to crumble. Walls cannot block dreams and  when he was five he had a dream in which he saw himself in a uniform with four gold stripes on the sleeve. The uniform was that of an airline captain and the power of this dream never left him. He also remembers his very first flight with his Father in 1984 to Sotchi, Georgia (former Soviet Union) on a Tupolev 154 and ever since he has been hooked.  Does this sound familiar to you? My spark was when I was eight and it was a DC 3 to Los Angeles International airport.

Father and son share a very special bond

Father Son First Flight

The first flight with a proud father

As we navigate life many people come in and out of our life. Some become friends for awhile and a very few become a close friend and stay in our lives forever.

Rick Erwin is a Captain for UPS and has been a close friend since he was a young man, fresh out of Southeastern Oklahoma State University, with a dream of becoming a professional pilot. For a short period of time he was my flight instructor and for over 30 years has been a very dear friend.

Earlier this year Rick contacted me and said that he was going to renew his Flight Instructor rating because his son Matt had expressed an interest in learning to fly and perhaps following in his Fathers’ footsteps. He was scheduled for a number of trips to the West Coast and was wondering if we might get together and spend some time flying and discussing what might be important as he got back in the right seat of a single-engine airplane (it had been over 20 years) to get Matt ready for his Private Pilot license. To my delight we got together at Santa Paula airport and spent most of the day hanging out, flying and sharing a good time. The best part is that not only is his name in my logbook as flight instructor I had the opportunity to make an entry in his logbook for the time that we spent together on a gorgeous April day.

On August 10th Matt became a Private Pilot and Rick had the privilege of teaching his son not only to fly but has played a key role, each day, in guiding this young man to this point in his life. I am very proud of both of them and cherish the friendship that Rick and I have shared.

If you build it you have to fly it…

Next step is a Tailwheel Endorsement

In October of last year Randy Lewis came to CP Aviation looking for a solution to a “small” problem. He had built an airplane and needed to learn to fly so that he could personally test how good a job he had done. Originally he thought that he would get a Light Sport license since his airplane was definitely in the Light Sport category. Lucky for me he could not find a Light Sport instructor or an airplane that satisfied him and so began our journey. Instead of the Light Sport license he  decided to get a Private Pilot license and a tailwheel endorsement since his aircraft is a tailwheel design.

The plan was to begin training in a Cessna 150/152 and after soloing switch over to tailwheel training in a Citabria. The plan progressed as it had been scripted and Randy flew his dual cross country in the Citabria but because insurance requirements did not allow him to fly solo in the Citabria, as a student pilot, he completed the rest of his private pilot requirements in a Cessna 152.

Randy is pretty cool and calm but when he walked in the door to meet with the Examiner to take his checkride  I had never seen him look so nervous. He had a first class, 100% natural case of the heebie jeebies and he had to work extra hard to overcome his nerves.

Mini Max built by Randy Lewis

Mini Max built by Randy Lewis

From the beginning the goal was to take the Private Pilot checkride by July and in spite of all that life could throw in the way and this extra large case of anxiety Randy became a Private Pilot on July 18th.

Even though his goal has been achieved we still have some work to do, in the Citabria, refining his tailwheel skills and getting him ready to fly his airplane. I will keep you posted and will have photos here when he takes flight in the airplane that he built with the same passion and commitment that he devoted to learning to fly.

Happy Birthday to Me-First Solo

MFT First Solo

Happy Birthday to Me

Michael Francis Tiefenbach is in love with flying and things that fly. He is an RC enthusiast and started flying single engine airplanes when he was twelve years old during his summer vacations in Michigan.

I met Michael and his father earlier this year when they shared with me his goal of soloing on his sixteenth birthday. I reviewed his logbook and noted that each year beginning in June 2005 that for  a month each summer he would take lessons while on family vacation. Each year through June of 2008 he would log 6-8 lessons during his stay and had logged almost 38 hours in a Cessna 172 and an Aeronca Champ.  As a Flight Instructor I was thrilled because there is something very special about soloing a pilot on the very first day that they are legally able to fly alone, followed closely by watching the young person achieve Private Pilot status on their seventeenth birthday. It reminds me of when I was eight years old and took my first airplane ride in a DC 3. I was hooked and couldn’t wait until I could fly an airplane by myself.

April 14th was my first flight with Michael and 20 hours later through his hard work and the support of his parents he was ready to solo. Thursday, May 28th dawned with a low stratus layer hanging over the Santa Paula airport but this was his day. By 0930 the overcast ceiling had risen to 1000 feet. I met him at the airplane and told him that this was his day and to go have fun. Six take-offs and landings later he taxied back to the ramp with a big smile and the joy of achieving a dream and getting one step closer to his Private Pilot check ride.

Success is a family affair

Watch a video that Michael created to share this special day with friends and family.

As I watched Michael and his parents celebrate the achievement I couldn’t help but think how lucky he is to have the love and support of those around him to guide, nurture and root him on. He doesn’t have a drivers license so either his mother or father (sometimes both) would bring him to the airport and wait for him to complete his lesson. Always patient, always supportive and always with love and a warm smile.

Congratulations to the entire Tiefenbach family and thank you very much for reminding me why I love this profession so very much.