Category: Milestone

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.

Full circle….



Twenty-two years ago I received a telephone call from a friend in Hickory NC. He mentioned that he had a young man on a bicycle racing team that he supported that he would like for me to talk to. His thinking was that I might be able to offer him some guidance and possibly be a mentor for him. I gladly agreed and the outcome of our first conversation has matured into a treasured friendship.

At the time we shared an interest in and a passion for bicycles and bicycle racing. I had a passion for flying and was a flight instructor. He had an interest in flying and wanted to be a Naval Aviator. As our relationship matured we shared many conversations but the one that meant the most to me, even to this day, was the one about the process that he was going through to be accepted into the Naval Aviation pilot training program. During one of our conversations I promised him that should he be accepted into the program I would join him for the ceremony and the “pinning of his wings” in Pensacola FL. He achieved his goal and on this special day I met Nik Fialka for the first time.

Ten days, hours of study, twenty-seven hours of flight training, Commercial Multi-Engine. Smiles all around!

Fast forward twenty-one years and I receive a phone call from Nik who is now a Commander in the Naval Reserve and is considering a career change. He has a young family, is a consultant to the Navy and is an owner of an RV Park in Pensacola. He is considering an opportunity to become an airline pilot and needs to add a multi-engine rating to his 2000 hours of helicopter and fixed wing experience in order to interview with a regional airline, and was asking for advice on how best to approach the process. I had access to a Diamond Twin Star and told him that if he came to California we would train him for the rating and get the requisite number of hours necessary to qualify for an interview. As I was saying this I did not have a multi-engine instructor rating as I had never been in a situation where it was required but had been trying to get myself in shape for the checkride. Now I had a reason and a deadline because he was arriving at LAX on July 14. It is amazing what can be accomplished in a short period of time when there is no other option. The process was a perfect example of “ready-fire-aim” and I completed my checkride on the afternoon of the 14th, picked Nik up at LAX later that evening and we began his training on the 15th.

Nik had been a fixed wing instructor at Pensacola and understood that we had a big task in front of us especially since it had been nine years since he had flown a fixed wing aircraft. The aircraft that he would be training in was nothing like the trainers he had flown at Pensacola. This twin engine airplane had a glass cockpit and enough other differences to challenge any pilot, we had our work cut out for us.

As I completed my check-ride I scheduled his check-ride with the same examiner for July 25. We had ten days to get him ready. Nine years away, sophisticated avionics, rusty instrument skills and an entirely unfamiliar airspace environment. Not exactly ideal for this challenge. Thank goodness that he is a Navy trained pilot. I am convinced that without the training foundation that he had there is no way that we could have accomplished the goal. Nonetheless, ten days and twenty-seven flight hours later we had accomplished what we set out to do, a multi-engine rating with instrument privileges.

Nik, Greg and a very old Smith Corona. It is almost official…

It was not easy and without the help of a number of people, a goal that was sealed in stone and some good fortune we would not have been able to make this happen. But we did and for everyone that played a role in this process we are sincerely grateful. My extraordinary wife made sure that we could focus only on flying, Rick Kolker for preparing me for my checkride, Omar Lala who worked with Nik on the instrument flying while I was away on another engagement and Greg Lewis our DPE who was patient and understanding as we navigated a last minute challenge with Nik’s license.

On Wednesday July 26 Nik and I flew to Hawthorne in the DA42 so that he could get a Lyft to LAX for his flight home. On July 28 Nik submitted his paperwork to begin the process for consideration by the airline of his choice. On August 1 he received a notification that he has been selected as a prospective candidate for a pilot position with his chosen airline. On Tuesday August 8 Nik received a pre-offer of employment with Envoy Air (American Airlines) pending a background review.

This was an achievement years in the making and I am thrilled that we were able to bring it full circle.


Postscript to Professor Emeritus to student pilot~classroom to cockpit

Michael made his first unsupervised solo yesterday and sent me the following note which I am sharing because it captures the essence of learning and realizing that the hard work is worth it.

“I had a terrific time this afternoon–felt like one of the big kids just sauntering in, being handed the book and the keys, doing my preflight, then jumping into the cockpit for a 1.3 hour flight.

I headed for the Ventura shore, skirting the Oxnard airspace and climbing to 3500, where I did some steep-bank turns, slow flight, then some power-off and power-on stalls. (A year ago stalls really freaked me out (to use the vernacular), so I’m delighted that I could do them and do them pretty well, without any apprehension.) Then I headed for Oxnard. I didn’t lose enough altitude before I entered the right downwind (confession), so I went around the first time, then did four landings and taxi-back take-offs. The wind was 180 6-7, so all the landings were crosswind but no sweat. I think I even got the nose more or less straight. Then back to SZP and a descent landing. I think most  of my radio work at Oxnard was fine; at least I didn’t hear about any omissions. You may detect a certain self-satisfaction in the above, but I’m sure you will forgive it.” Not only is it forgiven I applaud you for your success and look forward to our next flight together.

Professor Emeritus to student pilot~classroom to cockpit

Michael and Student Cessna

I created this blog to share stories about the people I meet and the opportunity that I have to share the adventure of learning to fly with them. The time that I have spent with Michael O’Connell is time that has been both challenging and rewarding. Michael is an accomplished  scholar with an interest in  Renaissance literature and medieval and Renaissance Drama and a passion for the sea. He is Professor Emeritus at UCSB. The following from the English Department website lauds that  Professor O’Connell’s work as an English scholar, instructor, and Education Abroad Program director has left a lasting impact on the department and campus. “Michael’s 30 years of service to the department and the university at large have demonstrated that his good cheer and friendly disposition extend well beyond the classroom. For his entire career, Michael has been a focused scholar, candid leader, and wonderful friend to his colleagues at UCSB – and will continue to be in his well-deserved retirement.” The “well-deserved retirement” gave Michael the opportunity to pursue an interest in flying which he developed while flying with a friend. Learning to fly in your sixties requires commitment, patience and a willingness to accept the fact that age is both a blessing and a curse. For reasons, outside of his control, Michael had a number of instructors and was introduced to me with a significant number of hours in his logbook. This is not a bad thing but having numerous voices and teaching styles rolling around in your can be confusing. Nonetheless, we started down the path to his first solo flight and what a path it was. The self-described “absent minded Professor” struggled with consistency and I would not have blamed him for saying “I have had enough”. He made it clear that if I felt that this was not for him that I say so. I am of the opinion that as long as a person never gives up, I will never give up on them and he was determined. Michael would make the one hour drive to Santa

Captain O'Connell sailing in EurpoePaula week after week and finally on January 23, 2012 he made his first solo at Santa Paula, followed by a solo at Oxnard. Momentous occasions, to be sure, but it was his flight on February 13 that proved to me that all his hard work had paid off and he truly earned the title of Pilot In Command. After three supervised solo flights we will endorse our pilot for unsupervised solo flight. After two solo flights Michael had lost some of his consistency and so we worked through the challenges. The day started with a weather system moving through early and we had a very clear but windy day for the scheduled flight. We had spoken on the phone before the flight and Michael had expressed concern about the winds and we decided to give it a go with the worst case being not soloing but having an opportunity to practice landings with strong winds. Strong winds was an understatement, at Oxnard and Camarillo where we planned to land, winds were 25 gusting to 36 pretty much down the runway but gusty and challenging for any pilot regardless of there skill level. He handled the challenge at a level that I never expected and I had decided that if the winds at Santa Paula were acceptable I would solo him. The winds were not as strong as at the other airports but nonetheless a challenge. After almost two hours of flying I asked Michael if he was up for his third solo and he said yes. Really? I said and he said yes with conviction. He had earned it and off he went for three solo landings. Each presented its’ own challenge but he handled each with a skill level that had come from his persistence and commitment to become a Pilot In Command.

Michael is one of the many reasons that I say “being a flight instructor is the best job in aviation”. I have left a lot out of this post but I would like to share the note that Michael gave to me along with a really good bottle of Scotch which we will share when he reaches the status of Private Pilot. The card had two tanks on it and he penned USMC on one and UC on the other.

“Tanks for blasting away at me from that right seat. Professors aren’t used to Marine platoon leaders-and I recognize that there really aren’t any ex-Marines-but you were exactly what was needed by this professor more used to libraries and
committee meetings. You were-and are-exactly what I needed in this complicated
process of learning to fly. More you’ve become a good friend”.

Solo Flight>>Step One

Solo Cessna

First Solo~The perfect way to celebrate the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk

Saturday December 17, 2011 started out as the second day of what we call “wind event” days as our tip of the hat to Santa Ana winds that blow here in Southern California. The plan was to have Evan Zalesak solo on this day but I had told him not to count on it as the wind may be a factor. He concurred but nonetheless his family had decided that they would come to the airport just in case something changed. As we began the winds were still too strong for a solo but good for a solo tune-up. We had performed a number of landings and as to be expected Evan was a bit nervous and I was nit-picking his performance to squeeze the best out of him. It was clear that Mother Nature had decided that today would be the day and the winds had calmed considerably.  As we were taxiing back to Runway 4  I asked him if he had any comments about his performance. He looked at me and said it was hard to concentrate because I was talking. I smiled to myself because this was the sign that he was ready to solo.  Needless to say, he performed well and after completing seven landings celebrated his accomplishment with his family.

The rest of this story has to do with Evan’s motivation to learn to fly. About a year ago he signed a contract with the Air National Guard unit based at Point Mugu with the goal of becoming a pilot in this unit. Having aviation experience is an important part of achieving his goal as is going through airman basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX. It was important to complete his training through solo as he leaves for his training in January.

A hug for a job well done

Also, budgeting his resources for the training was very important as would be expected of a recent college graduate and new father. To accomplish this goal we started his training in a Redbird simulator in which he spent his first five hours before getting into the Cessna 152 for the balance of the training to solo. As his instructor it was very encouraging to see how well he performed during his first flight in the airplane and I’m sure that the simulator contributed to achieving his goal of soloing after only 15 hours in the airplane and saving money in the process. Congratulations Evan and thank you for sharing this part of your journey with me.

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.

It’s About Time!

Clay Phelps

Clay flying a Stearman when he was twenty-something

Clay Phelps grew up with flying and aviation as part of his DNA and so it is no surprise that he has spent most of his life around airplanes, airports and people who fly. Clay (along with his wife Judy) is the owner of CP Aviation which is based at one of the jewels of aviation Santa Paula (SZP) airport.

When I joined the  staff, as an instructor at CP in 2008, Clay had been working on his Instructor rating for over 20 years and this love affair with procrastination was a long-standing joke amongst his many friends. Actually, the numbers that accompany this saga are 24 years and six sittings for the Fundamentals of Instruction and the CFI Knowledge Test (passed them every time) not to mention the countless hours spent studying and putting off completing the process.

It is not that Clay didn’t have plenty going on in his life. He did, but just taking the written six times would have put me “over the top”. Thank God that things change slowly within the FAA. After six times he almost had the tests completely memorized, not to mention that he was quickly running out of time on his last testing session (each test is good for 24 months).

Clay came to me last January and asked that I kick him in the butt and help him complete the certification process that started when he was “still a baby”.  We laid out a plan that allowed him to organize the process in manageable pieces and between myself, Jim Ford and many weekends and evenings spent in his office Clay became a Certificated Flight instructor on December 1, 2010.

Clay and Michael “share the moment”

I told Clay, during the days preceding his checkride, that he had more experience and knowledge than just about any person that is pursuing this certification. He soloed at sixteen, sold airplanes for Screaming Eagle and eventually started CP Aviation. He is an A&P, IA and now a CFI; but more than anything else he is really good guy.

I sincerely enjoyed getting to know Clay as a part of this process and am honored that he asked me to guide, cajol and otherwise be a thorn in his side. The great thing for me was that as he wrestled with what he needed to know I learned and learned and relearned. Another example of the student teaching the teacher. Thank you Clay.

Happy Birthday to Me~Part Two

Twelve months to the day and several inches taller

Michael Francis Tiefenbach was the first person I wrote about in this blog and everything that I wrote a year ago still rings true. Michael was a man of few words then and not much has changed. What has changed is the degree of confidence and complete competence that Michael exhibits each time that he gets into an airplane. He has an incredible inner drive and expects the best of himself each time that he exercises his privilege as Pilot in Command.

On Friday May 28th, his seventeenth birthday, and one year to the day that he soloed N5443L he became a licensed Private Pilot. I was taxiing out to the runway when Michael was returning from his check ride and I knew that he had passed because his communication was as animated and happy as any I had ever heard him make. It was also at this moment that I realized that another chapter in my life, as a flight instructor, was coming to a close and, as always, it was bittersweet knowing that I would no longer share the cockpit with Michael or see his wonderful supportive parents as frequently as I had over the past year. Thank you Cindy and Brian for sharing this experience with me and being as involved as you were in making this day happen. Thank you Michael for allowing me to guide you through the process. You have wonderful skills, you challenged yourself every step of the way and your desire to be as good as you could be made my part in this very easy.

Just Add Power~

Drew in Glider

The family legacy continues~The third generation

Drew Thomson began the journey to powered flight in gliders. As a glider pilot he followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and began flying gliders, not only because it was in his genes, but because it allowed him to solo at the tender age of fourteen. When his father sent me this photo of his first glider solo he made the comment that “he looks like such a little kid back then”. He does, but the beautiful smile and the confidence that comes from this kind of achievement, at a young age, were present when his father asked me to get him ready to solo powered aircraft on his sixteenth birthday ( his father is also a licensed glider and airplane pilot).