STAGE TIME: “The Pilot’s Mentor: Heights Others May Never Reach”
Do you ever wonder why some people “make it” and others do not? Why some in your industry with less experience surpass those who have been around for years? It is no mistake. It is not “luck,” but what is it?
My brother David has an inspiring story. When he was 18 years old he took a one-hour “fly a plane” lesson. He came home and told our mom that he was going to be a pilot. To truly understand the value of this story you have to know… in high school though he was a talented athlete, my brother was not known for his grades or study habits. He was challenged by dyslexia before they tested people for that. My parents were shocked and wondered how in the world he would be able to study to earn such a lofty goal.
How did David approach such and enormous challenge? Though I saw the amazing transformation of my brother when he found his passion, I was too young to understand the why behind it. As the little brother I just noticed he was locked in our room studying like never before, but it was much more than that.
David explained to me that most “pilots” start out as flight instructors after getting their commercial pilot’s license and instrument ratings, which can be accomplished with as little as 250 hour flight time…total!). With very few exceptions, no one WANTS to be a flight instructor, but with only a few hundred hours of flight time, no on will hire them for a “real” flying job with such little or no experience. Even most co-pilot jobs with a commuter airline require a minimum of 1,500 hours total flight time. So the best way to “build flight time” experience is by being a flight instructor at your local flight school.
The problem with that scenario is that most flight instructors learned how to fly from a guy with 300 hours, who learned from a guy with 300 hours, who learned from a guy with 300 hours. If you add them all together, they really still know nothing or at best, very little. (Can you see this pattern in your industry? I see it in the speaking world for sure. I was a caught in that loop myself.)
David was fortunate in that his initial primary flight instructor from whom he acquired his private pilot’s license told him that if he was going to go on and make a career out of flying, that he should learn from the guy who taught him… Herbie Longnecker.
Herbie was a retired American Airlines pilot with over 30,000 flight hours. Herbie had flown everything American had had from DC-3′s through DC-10′s when he had retired. Herbie was in Vero Beach, Florida at the time and if he wanted to learn from him, David was going to have to go to him (from Massachusetts) He charged more than what he would have had to pay if he stayed and learned from a local flight school instructor. (I’ve always traveled to learn from the right mentors. It shocks me when people want to go to my Champ Camps, but only if I do it in their home town. His willingness to travel just proved my brother’s commitment to his career.)
Herbie was tough on David…very tough. David told me that Herbie taught him to fly “properly,” smoothly, the way he should… and with the benefit of all of those years of experience and insight infused in every flight they took together.
Herbie always took along a full cup of coffee with him when they flew together and God help David if he spilled any. This could easily happen if David was rough on the controls or by “missing” anything he was supposed to be on top of. At the time, David thought it was “cruel and unusual punishment”. However it soon became apparent that he and his mentoring was the best thing that happened to him. (Whether it was Alan Weiss, Ph.D. being tough on me about my business, Ford Saeks ripping apart my marketing, or Patricia Fripp slapping me for bad grammar, they make me better. I never had a great mentor “nice” me into growth.)
When David got his first flight instructor job, yes… with about 250 hours of flight time, there were several instructors already working there whom had already been there for years. Many were desperately trying to get ahead. After being there for just a couple months, David had their students wanting to transfer and fly with him instead.
Within a few months, one of those long time instructors had left and took a job as an auto mechanic because he had no students left. Within 4 months of being there, David was the assistant chief flight instructor and had more students than all the other instructors combined. By the six month mark, not only was he promoted to chief flight instructor, but he was also doing 2 hours of traffic reporting in the early mornings. In addition to that he was flying a short run on a contract for the company.
Eight or nine months after initially taking the flight instructing job, David was offered a first officer (co-pilot) position with a Learjet charter company in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He didn’t even go looking for it. They came to him. (People who are the best in any industry stand out and they are the most in-demand).
Within a year, David was a Learjet Captain. Why? Because he invested that little bit extra. Herbie was a bit more expensive than the local, newer guys. David was taught by an experienced “pro” rather than going the cheap and easy convenient route.
Being taught by a man with 30,000 hours he was not learning from the canned approach in school that didn’t work in real-life. David become a captain of Learjet when he was 20 years of age and was rated in Hansa Jet and Cessna Citation as well. All of his co-pilots were ten or twenty years older that he was. He met every requirement he needed for his ATP License, but they could not give it to him until he met the requirement of being twenty-three. Like in most industries, most pilots surmise you can’t climb the ladder that fast. My brother told me he was naive to the fact, “I didn’t know that you couldn’t do it.”
There are definite reasons why people climb to the top of their industry. There are definite reasons why some flounder and never achieve greatness in their field. David stopped logging his time at 12,000 flight hours. He said to me, “I always wondered what happened to those guys whom had been floundering around there for years, getting nowhere.”
Have you seen people in your field who are floundering around and trying to figure it out themselves, or worse learning from someone else with only 300 hours? Who could be your Herbie? Are you willing to go to your Herbie instead of learning from a local instructor? Are you willing to invest a little more too?
It’s not just what he learned from Herbie, it’s what he did with it and how he applied it. What lesson will you take from my brother’s story?
Comment from a VIP at the Champ Camp that relates to this article:
This weekend at our coaching camp I loved seeing the joy on Elaine’s face when she said, “Wow, getting coached by you and Patricia was like taking an express elevator.” Though I like to hear that, I give the credit to the mentors I went to who logged their 30,000 hours in speaking.