Have you ever dreamed of taking a break from terrestrial life by taking flight? Have you thought of getting your private certificate, aka private pilot license (PPL) but you weren’t sure what it would take or how involved the process would be? If so, this blog is (hopefully) for you! I am currently working to earn my PPL and I will be discussing my progress, the trials, the tribulations, the joys, and the frustrations that I experience throughout the process. I’ll talk about how the lessons are structured and what you may expect should you decide to pursue a PPL for yourself.
I’ll start here by talking a little bit about myself and how I actually got the opportunity to start my flight lessons. It’s been a pretty exciting personal journey that I’m still having a hard time believing, but each time I hear that Lycoming engine fire I’m reminded that yes, this really is happening. Before I get too far into my life’s story, I’ll start at the end (hopefully of the chapter, not the book!). First, about the title “My Wingman”. In June of 2010 I became the extremely lucky and ecstatic grand prize winner of the 2011 Brietling aviation photography contest. As the grand prize winner Breitling (www.Breitling.com) has provided me with unbelievable opportunity to earn my PPL! So why is the blog called My Wingman? The photo which won the contest was of an awestruck little boy gently touching the elevator of a Laird Swallow biplane in Wichita, KS. The little boy? My son, my buddy, my little wingman.
I’ve been an aviation fanatic since I was four years old (coincidentally the same age as my son) when I had my first ride in an airplane, my Uncle Michael’s red and white Piper Tri-Pacer. One morning, my family and I headed out to the local airfield to meet my uncle for a day of flying. On the way there, possibly as a means of getting more flight time for himself, my cousin tried to scare any desire to fly from my impressionable mind by saying that an airplane had to be lifted up by a crane and balanced on top of a tall tower, then be allowed to fall before it could fly. Apparently Descartes didn’t intend for “the Cogito” to apply to 4-year olds because I actually believed my cousin’s inane story. (I didn’t think, therefore…I wasn’t? That’s a whole new can of philosophical worms…ha ha, Platohelminthes. Man I’m a dork…) Anyway, it was only after some persistent prodding by my Dad that I finally decided to climb into the back seat and go for a ride around the town of Bolivar, MO. I’m infinitely thankful I did because the moment that Tri-Pacer rotated was the exact moment that I knew I’d be unhappy leading a terrestrial life. I was bitten by the bug and it suddenly became imperative for me to find some way to get back into the air. Thus the dream of becoming a pilot in the US Air Force was born. Unfortunately, much like Platohelminthes (really? I’m trying that again?) that dream was prematurely crushed by the dirty shoe of myopia. My vision simply wasn’t good enough to be a candidate for flight school, thereby preventing me working in my dream office…the cockpit of a supersonic fighter (or even a subsonic heavy for that matter). I’ve since had LASIK and now have a 20/10 set of eyes thanks to the miracle of laser beams, but still no Raptor cockpit to sit in.
So what does a guy do who has just found out that he can’t become a pilot in the military? He does the next most logical thing and goes to pharmacy school. In 2002 I graduated with an undergraduate degree in biology and then started pharmacy school at the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Pharmacy where I graduated in 2007. Following this, I completed a residency at Duke University and then returned to Kansas City where I’m now a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) and a Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist and Clinical Specialist in Emergency Medicine practicing in a Level I trauma center, treating a fairly steady stream of people getting shot at 2 in the afternoon over an argument about who gets the last moon pie. Seriously, it’s absolutely amazing the kinds of things that people will shoot and stab each other over sometimes. Stop in front of me in the grocery store while I’m trying to walk? That’s a stabbing. Shovel snow the wrong way? That’s a capping. Bring home cube steak instead of flank steak? You’re getting stabbed with a skewer in the flank. At least things stay pretty exciting though. I’m one of those who can be easily distracted by something shiny in the corner of my eye, so it’s great to work in a place where new, intellectually taxing problems crop up every 20 minutes or so. Since I’m also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the School of Pharmacy, I take students on rotation which means they get to see this crazy stuff too which is something I would have loved as a student myself.
Anyway, back to aviation…the dream of leaving terra firma has never left me and I’m still holding onto the sliver of hope that some how, some way, I’ll be able to take flight in a military aircraft at some point in time. I realized though that until that time comes, I’d need to figure out another way to get up in the air or at least get closer to high performance aircraft doing their thing. I thought for a bit and decided that aviation photography would probably be a good way to be close to the planes and the aviators who fly them, so in the summer of 2010 I took up aviation / airshow photography. I had always enjoyed fumbling around with point and shoot cameras but I figured that kicking it up a notch would likely involve the acquisition of a DSLR camera. After a little ebay’ing and Craigslisting, I pocketed enough to pick up a new Canon 50D DSLR in June 2010. From that day on it really seemed tat things started to take off, both figuratively and literally.
Prior to 2010, I’d head out to the local airport on the Friday before an airshow to watch the practice show and would wonder how in the world the handful of people on the ramp were allowed to get out there while I was relegated to the parking lot. After being told that these were various members of the media, I decided that I’d like to try and become a member myself so I could join the Friday few. I contacted the interwebs best digital airshow magazine, AirShow Stuff (www.AirshowStuff.com), sent them some photos and was subsequently allowed to become a contributor. Finally, a way to get in for the Friday shows!!! Mission one – check. I was able to attend 3 airshows in the summer of 2010 as photographic media and was afforded the opportunity to obtain some unique shots of aircraft that I may not have otherwise been able to get. After the show season ended, I figured it was time to start my own photography website (www.FinalApproachPhotography.com) if for no other reason than to share photos with family and friends.
In December 2010 I was adding a few new pics to my website and on a whim decided to post a few to the Boeing Store’s Facebook fan page. The two pics I submitted were later selected as the “Photo of the Week” which left me riding high with a new sense of confidence, thinking “Hey, maybe I can actually do something with this!”. Then in February 2011, seemingly from out of the blue, Boeing’s director of brand management and promotion contacted me to see if I’d be interested in flying to Seattle to photograph the unveiling of the new Boeing 747-8i. The sound that came out of my mouth as I said yes could only be described as the sound which would emanate from 14 year old girl at the premier of a new Twilight movie. The important thing was that the word actually came out and one short week later I was on a Seattle-bound Saturday morning flight with my wife. I had an amazing trip and my Boeing Store hosts were amazingly gracious, allowing me to see and do things that I never would have dreamed of just a few months earlier. Go on a VIP tour of the Boeing production facility in Everett, WA? The kind of tour that is typically reserved for foreign dignitaries and heads-of-state? Be led on a tour by a very nice gentleman who had recently given national hero Neil Armstrong the same tour? Check! Overdose on aviation by also going to several aviation museums in a 24-hour stretch, even seeing a real MiG-29? Check! (I should rephrase and clarify by saying that it’s physically impossible for me to overdose on aviation, it’s really just more of a great thing that is completely unaffected by the law of diminishing returns). Go on a Boeing Store shopping spree and walk out with a ton of ridiculously cool stuff? Check, check, quadruple check!!!
After I returned home from this whirlwind tour, the inevitable depression of “nothing this cool could ever happen again” began to set in and I was kind of dragging through work for a while. Patient gets shot and ends up getting an emergency thoracotomy in the ER and I have the opportunity to massage the heart? Meh… I want to fly! (note: I hope that doesn’t sound calloused because I really love my job and Emergency Medicine really allows one to make a huge impact on patient outcomes. I guess you could say that it’s kind of like eating chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, which you love, but you’re still thinking of that cherry vanilla ice cream the whole time.)
It was at this point I decided I would develop and implement a goal-driven strategy for one day owning my aviation dream…a P-51D Mustang (oooh, with 78th FG, 82nd FS markings. I waaaaaant that). I knew this would be impossible with my current financial arrangement so I thought about alternative approaches for goal attainment. Being a PharmD, I’ve been trained to critically evaluate pharmacologic studies, trials, and medical information to determine optimal therapies for specific maladies, so I decided to use this knowledge to develop my own line of evidence-based dietary supplements. In May 2011 I formed my own business called Hypersonic Labs, Inc. (aviation themed of course) and started by developing 4 dietary supplements: (www.HypersonicSupplements.com)
Drink Wingman – The hangover preventer that actually works very, very well. It locks on, engages, and destroys hangovers before they get you.
Hypersonic Energy – The cost effective alternative to energy drinks that provides more energy and doesn’t give you that energy drink “crash”. It costs 1/10th as much as the leading energy drink and works better, by far.
Hypersonic Focus – The evidence based supplement designed to enhance memory, focus, and concentration.
Hypersonic Diet – An evidence-based supplement that sheds pounds, but it does it safely (as opposed to virtually every other diet supplement on the market).
I’m currently working on a word of mouth campaign (the word has definitely been good thus far!), and plan to continue to develop and expand as I work towards my goal of warbird ownership. (If you’d like to try some, drop me an email and I’ll send you a sample!)
Fast-forward just a bit to a lazy Sunday afternoon. I’m researching potential formulations for my supplement line and I take the obligatory detour to Facebook to see what’s going on in the world of “stuff”, when to the right of my screen I see an ad that reads “Win your pilot license”. Intrigued, I click on the link to find that it’s <gasp> an aviation photography contest being held by Breitling! Submit up to 5 photos and then hope to be selected as a finalist? I can do that! I sift through my aviation photos, picking the 5 that I think might best capture my love of aviation. I send them in and then look through some of the other 5,000 entries, losing hope of winning with each subsequent photo I look at. I re-read the terms and conditions and see that the finalists will consist of the top-10 vote getters from the Facebook community and 10 photos selected by Breitling. Looking at all of the fantastic entries I quickly lose hope that I’ll be selected by Breitling and I know that there’s no way I’ll be in the top-10 vote-getters simply because I’m not a good Facebook vote solicitor. A few weeks later after having almost forgotten about the contest, I receive an email from the Breitling offices stating that I’ve made it through to the final round of the competition and my photo will be sent on to the panel of judges for final evaluation! The panel of judges included John Travolta, Katsuhiko Tokunaga (world famous air-to-air photographer), Yves “Jetman” Rossy (flew across Grand Canyon with his self-designed rocket pack), Jaques Bothelin (leader of the Breitling Jet Team), Brian Jones (co-pilot of the first hot air balloon to fly non-stop around the world), and Tony Velocci (editor-in-chief of the magazine Aviation Week). I was suddenly in the running to either win the Grand Prize of a pilot’s license (lessons to be paid for by Breitling) or the First Place Prize of the opportunity to fly to France and experience a once-in-a-lifetime flight with the Breitling Jet Team! I logged onto the Facebook page to see which of my photos was selected when I received an infarct-inducing shock. I didn’t have one photo selected…I had TWO!!! Suddenly, my excitement knob was turned to eleven and my thoughts consolidated to one-track…flight. The email said the winner wouldn’t be announced for another couple of weeks which meant I’d have a hard time concentrating for a while and I’d have waaaay too much time to allow my imagination to run wild and my hopes to be built up. After what seemed like an eternity, June 15, 2011 arrived. I was sitting in the Emergency Department when I heard that familiar Apple email “ding”. I ran to my computer to see that I’d just received an email from Breitling. Could it really be the email I’d been hoping for? Surely not, there’s no way. <Click> “Congratulations! You’ve been selected as our winne…..” I couldn’t focus on the rest of the sentence because I was emanating some sort of guttural, half-grunting, half-squealing sound and patients were looking at me funny. Talk about an unbelievably impactful moment that I’ll remember exact details about forever! It took a second to penetrate my brain (which it still hasn’t done fully yet), but I finally realized I’d just won an international aviation photography contest and I’d be able to obtain my private pilot license!!! A nearly life-long dream of taking flight soon to be miraculously fulfilled!
Since I was 4 years old, this quote has been very apropos:
“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” – Da Vinci (?) [some attribute this to Da Vinci, although it’s not definitely proven the renaissance master actually said this]
And now, thanks to Breitling, it’s to the sky I’ll return!
At the time I’m writing this, it’s September 2011 and I’ve just started my flight lessons. In this blog I’ll be talking about my flight lessons, the good things, the bad things, the trials and tribulations, and everything in-between. If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to get your license, this blog will help to answer that question.
Thanks for reading!