Friday, October 4, 2013

Keep It Simple

Low and slow, somewhere over Victoria County.

It's been a different month for me.  It's amazing how you can be doing what's essentially the same job, but changing where and how you do it makes it feel like a whole new career. 

In September, I've flown the Bosque River valley in a J-3 Cub at sunrise.  I spent time in Victoria giving dual instruction in the family J-3 Cub (which I literally grew up in---that's probably a really good subject for another article).  I've even given ground instruction in a real estate office and several local coffee shops. 

Not only has this been a really neat change, it's proven something else to me. Back in 2009, the model Parker and I used to start Waco Flight Training could be summed up in one phrase: "Keep it simple, manage expenses, and do a better job than the other guy."  I realized when I got to thinking about it that this little adventure is really living that out. 

Customers seem to be liking the flexibility, they definitely like the fact that I'm able to charge less (and ironically make more), and I'm not hating the fact that I'm writing this from my home office.  In fact, soon as I hit "post" I'm making lunch in the kitchen and sitting down for a bit with my Airline Transport Pilot study guide.

I know I'm kind of rambling, but I'm getting to a point.  There's an adage in aviation concerning, shall we say, capital outlays:  "The best way to make $2 million in aviation is to begin with $4 million."  I can tell you, if your goal is to blow money this is the best business to be in.  But, it doesn't have to be that way.  If you want to know why flight schools fail and financial support for them dries up, see the above adage.  Sink a couple of million on flash, and you're going to be left wondering why you can't get out of the hole. 

Maybe aviation needs a little less flash and a little more simplicity.  Airplane, pilot, instructor.  That's all you really need, and it doesn't really matter where the three meet up.  I learned to fly out of a hangar built in the 1930s, sitting in a metal folding chair between a greasy coffee pot and a 1950s-era Nesbitt's (sort of like Orange Crush) vending machine.  It's been rewarding to find that this kind of simplicity draws other people to aviation as well.  Those are the kind of people I want to hang out with.  Those are the kind of people I want to fly with.

"Keep it simple, manage expenses, and do a better job than the other guy."

Side note:

Thanks to Robbie Vadjos and his great friends and family for putting on a great Under-the-Wire Fly-In for the 24th year!  Despite a rain-out and the typical low turnout on the rain date, the passion, hospitality, and camaraderie were there as always and keep this event something that none of us would ever consider missing!

Monday, September 16, 2013

My Time

I was up and headed to work before dawn last Friday.  Well before dawn.  But I couldn't complain; I was to pick up my customer's 1939 Piper J-3 at the McGregor airport, and fly it to Clifton so I could spend the morning flying with he and a good friend of his.  I pre-flighted the airplane using the brights on my Explorer, and ended up hand-propping it because the battery hadn't quite charged enough (neither a big deal; I'm still getting used to the idea of a J-3 having a starter in the first place).

Just as the first rays of the sun were breaking the horizon, I pulled onto Runway 22 and departed to the northwest.  The air was smooth, the smoothest I've seen in a long time, and there was a layer of high clouds to the north and east which provided a unique filter for the sunrise.  It was almost a fall morning (something you look forward to all summer when you spend as much time in non-air conditioned planes as I do).

The idea of commuting to a customer is a new one, but this is my new life.  You see, a couple of weeks ago I left the flight school that Parker and I had started back in 2009.  Over the years, it was bought out, expanded, and then eventually became part of an FBO.  An FBO's focus is on selling gas.  That isn't right or wrong, it just is.  Over time, things began to feel less like the friendly little flight school I built from nothing.

Being attached to an FBO does provide some regularity, but it makes it harder to dream big.  The freedom to travel a little bit, to fly with some unique students in some unique airplanes, and yes, even the freedom to pursue opportunities flying some bigger (read: airline) airplanes was calling me.  So was the little flight school Parker and I opened in 2009. 

And so, here I am, by myself again and loving it.  Which brings me back to the 1939 J-3, about 1,500 feet over the Bosque River valley winging my way towards Clifton.  The beauty of the morning struck me as I was about to enter the traffic pattern.  Solitary, unfettered, just me and a simple airplane on the perfect day, carrying out the simple act of airmanship for which it was so aptly designed over 75 years ago:  this is what it's all about.  This, I thought, is my time.

Indeed, it is my time.  My aviation dream has come full circle and I'm excited to bring the focus back to what it should be:  student, airplane, and instructor.  Instruction may eventually become a part of a bigger aviation career for me, but it will always be a vital part, and this is how it will be carried out. 

So, it's time to dust the 100 Low Lead blog off and document this next chapter of my dream.  My goal is to start making weekly updates.  It's my time, and there's plenty of room for passengers.  See you next week!