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What is a Missionary Pilot?

Missionary Pilots go through years of training to make a huge impact on the world. Image via Mission Aviation Training Academy.

A few days ago, a friend of mine announced that he was accepted to an internship with the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). He will be spending a summer in Lesotho, Africa working closely with their flight operations to transport medicine, supplies, and pastors into remote villages on the mountains. Of all the internships my friends have announced lately, this one really blew me away. To travel into a completely foreign land to utilize your skills in aviation with the sole purpose of spreading goodwill and the Gospel is truly brave!

When I heard this, I began to wonder just how people ended up becoming missionary pilots. It is certainly not a career field they advertise at flight university. It may get a mention here or there, but it is rare to find someone who has an end goal of becoming one. Why is that? Clearly there is a need to use the modern technologies and capabilities we have to help those who are unable to unable to access important things without them. However, as I have learned, it is not as simple as putting a pilot in a plane with some supplies and taking off.

At the heart of the need for missionary pilots is the fact that some people in the world live in extremely remote and impoverished areas. Most of these people have never seen an airplane, let alone had the thought to build a working airport. Because of this, missionary pilots often have to land on whatever semi-suitable ground they can find. This may very well be a particularly long strip of dirt nestled in a mountain range. These pilots expertly land at these dangerous locations and bring in anything that the villages may need, such as doctors, pastors, or even groceries.

Missionary pilots who fly missions into remote locations have to be ready for anything that could possibly go wrong. They are required to have advanced pilot certifications, as well as advanced mechanic certifications. There is no “typical day” in the life of a missionary pilot, so they must be well prepared for all possibilities. Many missionary pilot hopefuls choose to prepare for their futures by doing apprenticeships with established training institutions. For example, The Missionary Maintenance Services (MMS) Apprenticeship program is an intense, thirty month, full-time aviation maintenance ministry that prepares students for the life of mission work.

Another interesting fact about missionary pilots is that they have to raise their own financial support for missions. They do this through connections with churches and individuals. Sometimes it can take years to raise the money required to do the mission where they are needed. Thankfully most missionary organizations have a network of support that the pilots and mechanics can become a part of.

It may seem crazy to go through all of this training just to have to raise your own funds to even go on a mission. The reality is, that doesn’t matter to those who feel they have been called to serve the Lord in this way. They delight in the process to ultimately share their expertise with those in need. They are able to make a real, tangible change in the world for the better. In the end, I do not think you could find a missionary pilot that did not think it was worth it.

Are you interested in helping a missionary pilot make positive changes in the world? Check out the MAF website for more information on sponsoring them!

Top Five Things to Look for in a Flight School

So you have finally decided that you will chase your dreams and get your pilot license. That’s great! The next big step in the process is to pick a flight school. However, with the number of flight schools around nowadays (sometimes multiples at single airports) it can be difficult to know which flight school to choose. Ultimately you will be giving a large amount of money to them, so it is very important you find the right fit for your goals and needs as a flight student.

In this article I would like to outline some of the most important things to look for in a flight school, to hopefully assist you in choosing the perfect fit. Sometimes it is worth driving to the next town over for your preferred flight school.

1. Availability of aircraft

One of the number one complaints I’ve heard from my flight student friends is that they are unable to schedule their flights when they need to because there is limited aircraft availability. Having too many students trying to fly too few aircraft can lead to a lot of frustration and unhappiness from all involved. Speak with current students and see how often they are able to fly. Is it flexible or will you be fighting for a plane when the weather is nice? Another important thing to think about is what you will be flying after you complete your training. Does the flight school offer rentals without instructors? Is there a local flying club that has ties to the school? Having a game plan for when you’re flying on your own will save you a lot of work once you achieve your goals to earn your license.

2. Experienced instructors

One of my pet peeves with flight instructors is when they are clearly just instructing to get the hours to move to the airlines. Although this is what the majority of instructors are doing, it doesn’t mean they get to be lazy or haphazard with teaching you. Watch out for instructors who do not take your training seriously, or will cancel your flight for the slightest inconvenience. A good instructor will tailor your lessons to your learning style, and will do the best they can to advance you through the lessons so you aren’t wasting money. Remember, no matter how nice the person is, you have the right to switch to a new instructor if you feel you are not making the progress that you should be.

3. Training Options

The training options that you look for in a flight school have a lot to do with what your personal goals are as a pilot. Do you intend to fly as a hobby or are you ultimately wanting to make a career out of it? There is a notable difference between a Part 61 and Part 141 certified flight school and it is up to you to decide which you prefer. This goes along with the availability of aircraft as well. Do you want to fly the classic Cessna 172 or are you looking for a more “mission-oriented” type of aircraft? Have an open mind about new aircraft if you’ve only ever experienced one type, but be picky if you need certain type ratings or endorsements for your ultimate aviation goals.

4. Good Maintenance

I can assure you that when I first started looking at flight schools, I didn’t think twice about how their maintenance was. However, once I started flying and planes continually went out of service for the most random things, I began to wonder how smoothly our maintenance department was operating. Ask any potential flight schools who is in charge of maintenance, how a student would report a discrepancy with the plane, and how quickly the turnaround time usually is if a plane does go down for maintenance. Keep in mind that aircraft have regularly scheduled inspections, and ask how long they usually take to complete them. You may be surprised to learn that they are not up to standards. Determining the airworthiness of a plane is ultimately up to the pilot in command, so knowing how well the maintenance has been kept up is important.

5. Safety Record

Even if all of the above features of your soon-to-be flight school appear to check out perfectly, safety should always be the number one concern for pilots. Closely tied to maintenance and instructor experience, the safety record of the flight school directly impacts you. Keep your ear to the ground for any stories of unsafe operations and be watchful for regulation compliance. If the flight school ends up getting shut down for operating unsafely, you may be questioned about it during an interview for an airline. In the short term, you won’t have access to the planes you were flying. Keep tabs on the history of the flight school and be cautious if anything seems off.

The time you spend comparing flight schools will always pay off in the end. Don't be afraid to be picky and ask the hard questions. Flight schools would not be around without students so make sure you do your due diligence in the beginning, and enjoy your time training. What do you look for in a flight school? Let me know in the comments below!

Tips for Your First Oshkosh Camping Experience

Ever wondered what it would be like to fly into Oshkosh for AirVenture and camp under the wing of your aircraft? Have you thought of doing it before but not known what to expect? I am here to answer any questions you may have about flying in, camping out, and making the most of Aviation’s Greatest Celebration!

A little background about myself: I have been to Oshkosh a total of four times, three of which I flew in and camped beside the plane. That is by no means anywhere near as many times as most Oshkosh attendees. In fact, I met a man this year who said it was his 42nd consecutive year at the fly-in. Now that is impressive! I am a novice, but I was new to camping my first year and there are certainly things I wish I had known beforehand. So here is my complete beginners guide to airplane camping at Oshkosh!

Some financial information upfront: two adult weekly wristbands ($123 each for EAA members) plus 9 nights of camping ($27 a day) will cost just shy of $500. You do get a refund on camping if you do not stay the whole 9 days, and the only major cost you should have left after that is food. Buses are available to take you on Target runs which help to avoid the typically overpriced food offered on the grounds. Overall this can be a very affordable vacation if you plan it out well.

Step One:

Pack Appropriately.

Obviously, what you are able to pack depends a lot on what type of aircraft you are flying in. The first year I had the opportunity to fly into Oshkosh with my husband we flew in a Stinson 10A. That little plane couldn’t haul a third person, let alone a tent, chairs, luggage, and all of our supplies for the week. We ended up having to have my father-in-law carry most of our supplies in his plane which was able to carry much more. You also have the option of mailing your supplies in and picking them up once you get there, if that seems like a better option. Just remember, you’ll have to mail them back or throw them away! Some items I could not live without during the week include: sunscreen, bug spray, a hat, a shower tote, shower shoes, and a medium sized backpack. Don’t forget regular items such as toiletries, sheets, pillows, and a few warm blankets. It can get extremely cold at night. Bring enough shampoo and conditioner to shower every night, even if you don’t feel like it. Believe me, the week will go by much smoother if you go to bed clean every night.

Step two:

Arrive Gracefully.

Read the NOTAM! Believe it or not, there are actual real pilots that attempt to fly into AirVenture without reading the arrival procedures NOTAM. One such pilot was ahead of us on our arrival in this year. He kept asking his buddy over the radio what he was supposed to do. It’s embarrassing and inefficient. It takes literally 10 minutes to review and get an idea of what is expected of you when you arrive at Ripon. Print it out, highlight the frequencies, and get ready to rock your wings when they ask you! Make sure you have your sign with you to signal the ground crew where you need to go. Follow their instructions and take up any grievances with your parking location with the appropriate personnel after you have shut down the engine. Screaming out the window at a volunteer who is just following someone else’s’ instructions won’t get you anywhere.

Step Three:

Set up Your “Home Base.”

I personally think it is important to enjoy the place that you return to every night. We have had great luck with bringing an air mattress and setting it up inside our (slightly oversized) tent. If you do not have access to a battery or generator for the week, there are plenty of outlets where you can blow the mattress up and return it to your tent. I saw this happen more than once, and it is totally worth it to have a comfy bed. I suggest bringing a lantern, cooler, and any other “extras” that would add to your experience camping. Things can get messy and disorganized very quickly in a tent environment, so having a system for where you put dirty clothes, shoes, etc. will also be beneficial.

Step Four:

Scope out Your Amenities.

It is important to know the location and availability of the amenities closest to your campsite. EAA has been very good about providing hot showers, charging stations, drinking water, porta pots and mirrors to their campers at several locations throughout the grounds. The showers are usually in the form of giant trailers with doors that open to individual changing rooms and curtains covering the shower portion. I have had no issues in the past being in Vintage camping, however, this year they did not provide any sinks in the South 40 portion. I had to take a bus and a tram to get to any kind of sink. That made the week difficult, as I wash my face with soap every single morning. I had to get creative and carry my facewash with me as I got on the bus to reach the main area, where I would stop off and wash at the nearest sinks in Vintage. This might not be important for your situation, but getting a good idea of where your amenities are before it gets dark will help a lot.

Step Five:

Have fun!

I know that it sounds cliché, but having fun and enjoying the week is the ultimate goal here. Get to know your neighbors, walk around and see everything you possibly can, and take time to simply appreciate how big and wonderful EAA AirVenture has become. I know of a lot of people who consider it the best week of the year, and it is certainly easy to find something interesting to learn or see.

Let me know in the comments if you have any tips for first-time campers at Oshkosh! As always, I am already looking forward to next year!

Thoughts From The National Waco Club Reunion Fly-in

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend an aviation event that truly inspired me. The 58th annual National Waco Club Reunion was held at Wynkoop Airfield in Mount Vernon, Ohio. My husband and his father have flown into this particular fly-in for several years. This was my first year being able to join them, and I am so glad that I did.

Our trip to Wynkoop was a little over 200 nautical miles. We arrived Thursday evening and did our best to prepare for the incoming thunderstorms on Friday. The rain definitely hit full force and pilots were grounded for the majority of the day. Thankfully all was not lost, and the skies opened up to beautiful sun and favorable winds on Saturday. It was the perfect weather and a great backdrop to the 22 unique Waco aircraft that flew in.

There were several factors that made this fly-in so special. First, the majority of the Waco aircraft flown in are project planes that have been meticulously restored from the ground up. The passionate aviators who have dedicated thousands of hours to their planes aim to honor historical accuracy. These are friends that go back decades and have watched the progress of each other’s projects over time. They call it a reunion for a reason!

Second, the pilots at this fly-in wanted to do just that – fly! At any point in the day there would be several beautiful biplanes whirling around the field, doing low passes, and occasionally taking the lucky passenger for a ride. I like this aspect better than events like AirVenture because you are able to go up whenever you’d like, whereas it can be difficult to get into the air at AirVenture if you aren’t in an airshow.

The third special thing about the National Waco Club Reunion is the locals who come out to see the planes. They are always respectful and curious about general aviation. Unlike some fly-ins where the public seems to come just for the entertainment value, these people have a much deeper passion and respect for the work that goes into restoring and maintaining these aircraft.

An important part of every fly-in is the food that is available. There was a hearty breakfast served Saturday as pilots prepared for the day ahead. In the afternoon attendees enjoyed brats, burgers, and hotdogs with all of the fixings. Another great option was the homemade ice cream food truck parked outside the FBO. The Saturday night banquet was especially delicious and the catered buffet was served on the field!

The fly-in is not heavily publicized in the area. Locals just know that near the end of June the biplanes will come in, and they will show up after they see them flying around town. I had a good experience with every single person that I interacted with from the town of Mount Vernon. They were enthusiastic about the airplanes and we had several of them thank us for coming to town.

My husband especially enjoyed taking the locals up for rides during the fly-in. He said it’s important to him to show people that aviation is a lot more than a way to get from point A to point B. General aviation is more than a hobby, but rather a lifestyle for many. The more that the general public knows about it, the more they will be willing to support pilots and airports in legal matters they may have a voice in. Giving a face to general aviation and the people who enjoy it is an important mission for both of us.

Overall this fly-in was a great experience and I highly recommend attending in the future. The enthusiasm and zeal for aviation shared by the pilots is very clear as soon as you step onto the field. This fly-in truly serves as a great example of success for all other types of aviation events.

Top 5 Reasons YOU Should go to EAA AirVenture This Year

I am excited to report that we are officially less than two months away from the start of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017! Dubbed “The World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration,” AirVenture is hosted annually by the Experimental Aircraft Association near the end of July in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. This year the dates run from July 24th -30th. I have been lucky to be able to attend Oshkosh three times before, including flying in twice.

One thing that has surprised me while studying aviation in college is that very few of my classmates have gone to AirVenture. A few of them had not even heard of it before! I am here to tell you about how AirVenture is a must-do for any aviation enthusiast, and how it can be affordable and fun for anyone – including college students!

(Note for the pilots: Maybe you have been going to Oshkosh for years, but have never tried to fly in. This year you should consider pushing yourself and flying in! It may seem overwhelming at first but the tower and ground personnel are extremely skilled at helping first-timers during their entrance. Read up on the NOTAM and imagine the sense of accomplishment you will when you can proudly say you flew into AirVenture!)

Without further ado, here are my top five reasons you should visit Oshkosh this year.

1. It’s Affordable

One of the biggest reasons my college friends haven’t been to AirVenture is because they think that it is not affordable. Let me tell you, EAA has thought about that. They want as many people as possible to experience the week so they have made ways for even the most frugal people to come. Although the cost of admission and camping out usually add up to less than the cost of one Spring Break trip, EAA also has a whole host of opportunities for visitors to volunteer during the week and get free admission, meals, and even accommodations.

2. It’s a Great Learning Experience

A good aviator never stops learning, and there are thousands of ways you can learn new things while at Oshkosh. Head over to the forums to learn about everything from TIG welding to the complete history of a specific aircraft. Additionally, there are over 800 exhibitors to visit and learn about. The cutting edge of technology is always on display at AirVenture, and attendees will be able to see things they never would have otherwise.

3. It’s Great for Networking

Whether you are a business owner, a college student, a professional pilot, or anything in between, there is going to be someone at AirVenture that you need to meet and talk to. I have made lasting friendships with people I have camped beside, and I have made professional connections with vendors that I can use throughout my whole career. The best part is: you don’t even realize you’re networking! You are all just there to have fun and enjoy the week. It never feels forced or awkward, as some networking events can tend to be.

4.It’s Unlike any Other Event

An “air show” by the classic definition would include unique airplanes doing stunts and wowing the crowd. However, AirVenture is so much more than just an air show. They call it an aviation celebration because there is no better way to describe all that happens. You are able to pick and choose from hundreds of ways to spend your time. If you want a relaxed day at the museum, take a free tram over there and spend the day indoors. If you want an unforgettable airplane ride in a B-17 or Ford Tri-Motor, go ahead and do it! There’s international food, games, and so many ways to customize the week to your desires.

5. It’s FUN

Starting with the opening night concert featuring Barenaked Ladies, AirVenture is determined to have every single attendee have a great time. Air shows featured throughout the day will amaze even the most experienced pilot. At night, the Fly-In Theater is scheduled to play several popular movies, including Sully and Rogue One. Although it can be exhausting trying to see everything you want in one day, it is worth every second and you will leave with unforgettable memories.

What is your favorite part of Oshkosh? Are you attending this year? Let me know in the comments below!