By Jay M. Flowers, National FAA Safety Team ASI, Operations
(701-226-6283 / firstname.lastname@example.org)
Back in 1972, a pilot by the name of Dennis Rohlfs and family moved next door to our home in Bismarck, ND. As time passed, Dennis and my dad became very good friends. It was through that friendship I was asked to join Dennis on a flight to Wheatland, WY.
As a 12-year-old, the awesome level of that trip will never be forgotten. My father, being a stockholder in Dennis’s company, afforded me opportunities in aviation most would pay to be given. Basically, I was a “ramp rat”, cleaning airplanes and helping out where I could, taking a free airplane ride whenever I could, all in awe of the adventure known as aviation.
In 1979, I started to fly and what a trip that was. The company employed several charter pilots that all had a hand in mentoring me at some point during my education as a young airman. The best part was that I was being trained by the best in aviation, preparing me for the rest of my life. Thank you all for a job well done!
The truly career-minded airman will always set themselves goals, such as hitting a positive rate on climbout or total hours needed to apply for that next aviation position or job. In 1984, I reached my fourth goal of becoming a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). That was quite a day, when I passed the check ride, crawled out of the airplane, went into Dennis’ office and was asked to come to work as his new CFI. I went back down stairs and smudged the wet ink on the Inspectors Endorsement on my new Flight Instructors Certificate. I spent the next 37 years teaching people how to fly, and what a life it has been!
Through the years, as do many pilots, I looked to the airlines. One problem was that deregulation was bankrupting airlines as fast as they took on new routes. Before long, the industry was in such turmoil that staying with this small Part 135 operation seemed pretty secure for a family man. I spent 22 years at Executive Air Taxi Corporation (EATC) and I would not give up a single moment of my time there. Starting out as a line boy and CFI, I worked my way up as a Charter Pilot, Company Instructor, Chief Pilot, and Director of Operations. I managed the company Hazardous Material and TSA Safety Assurance program for a time, and found myself as Company Check Airman for nearly 16 years in more than a half dozen family types and models of airplanes. The biggest challenge was keeping all that straight, as I myself may have been giving checks in those aircraft, but I also had to pass flight checks proving myself to the FAA. At some point late in my career, I looked back and found that I had taken more than 320 flight checks with the FAA on board. In all, there were only two failures, both of which I failed myself on for not following company and self-best practices.
Aviation is not a desk job or a day-to-day grind in an office or business somewhere. You might say that the worst day I ever had in the air still beat the best day I ever had on the ground - except, of course, the day my daughter was born. An aviation career does come with a few attachments:
1) You NEVER stop learning. About the time you think you have seen it all, you will find something you have never seen before.
2) It is a career which requires your attention. Aviation, although buried in timetables, has the worst timing for a family man. A charter pilots’ life is supported by a group of customers that very rarely are on time. Your schedule is their schedule.
3) The possibilities are endless. I remember one story in particular: my co-pilot and I left southern California at 80 degrees and no wind, and headed east and north for New York State and landed in a blizzard. We fought our way through the crowds to our overnight location, somewhere near New York City. The next day, we diverted twice until we could finally land at an airport in another snowstorm and parked in the middle of nowhere. We took a limo to a hotel to catch a little shuteye, just long enough before we headed home the next morning. I remember my copilot mentioned something about what a day that was. My reply was, “Nowhere but this job can a person have a front row seat to a flight from California, out over the Pacific Ocean, across the southern U.S. border to the Atlantic Coast, land after some planning and forethought in a blizzard, only to depart to some location nowhere near where you planned. Then, the next day fly over all of the Great Lakes and be home in time for supper. Sounds like a life like none other to me!”
In 2005, I left EATC and worked with the University of North Dakota Research Group in Alaska, as Captain of their Citation II research aircraft. The mission was to fly into icy conditions and relay that location to our flight team, seeking known icing certification in a Sikorsky S-92 Helicopter.
In 2006, I applied and was hired by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as an Inspector, supported by my years of training and expertise as an airman. I progressed from Aviation Safety Inspector (ASI) to Principal Operations Inspector (POI), then from FAA Safety Team Program Manager (FPM) for North Dakota and Minnesota to my current job with the National FAASTeam ASI out of Washington D.C.
The biggest change I have seen since taking on this facet in my aviation career is the advent of Unmanned Aircraft, Electric Airplanes, SpaceX, and the true application of ADS-B in the airspace. It’s funny how I’ve spent more than the last 30 years flying with equipment like GPS, Loran, DME, TCAS, and RMI. All of these tools have led us to a safer era with ADS-B.
This year’s biggest challenge is preparing for EAA AirVenture and Sun N’ Fun, which are a few of my many responsibilities here at the National FAASTeam. Each year, over 700,000 attendees join together at these events to aspire and enjoy all that aviation has to offer. At AirVenture, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and the FAA offer more than 250 educational events, designed to educate airmen, pilots, and mechanics, all with the same passion we know as aviation. We hope to see you there!
Safety is a motivated action which requires attention, skill, and refreshment throughout time.
Train often, Fly Safe!