Since joining the Cirrus Aviation family back in June 2015, I’ve used the maintenance skills I learned in the military to work on all kinds of civilian aircraft; from experimental category airplanes up to large, multi-engine charter planes. It’s been a fantastic learning experience, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
But that’s only half the story. Though I’ve spent my weekdays under the cowling twisting wrenches and testing circuits, my nights and weekends have been devoted to learning to fly the airplanes I used to fix. Using my Post 9/11 Montgomery GI Bill, I’ve been earning a Bachelor of Aeronautics with Liberty University, and getting my flight training at Cirrus Aviation through the Liberty University Flight Training Affiliate program.
I’ve earned my Private Pilot License, Instrument Rating, Commercial Pilot License, and now (finally!) my Certified Flight Instructor License. It’s been a busy couple of years here at Cirrus Aviation, and a lot of hard work, but to just say that it’s been “worth it” would be an understatement! It’s been nothing less than achieving a dream.
I’ve loved working in the Maintenance Department. Fixing airplanes is interesting, and a lot of fun. But I’m more than ready to start this new chapter in my aviation career, and excited to join Cirrus Aviation’s staff of Flight Instructors. I’m looking forward to several more years as a member of the instructor team as I continue on and earn my Instrument Instructor rating and Multi-Engine ratings. In time I’ll get my Airline Transport Pilot license, and begin a long and surely illustrious career as a professional Airline Pilot, and perhaps become the greatest aviator since Bob Hoover! (Did I forget to mention that I don’t have a self-esteem problem?)
As for my spare time (these days measured in minutes rather than hours…), I’m an avid firearms enthusiast, motorcyclist, camping companion with my friends, and sailor of boats large and small. I enjoy living in Florida and being able to see the beauty that surrounds us, both man-made as well as the natural world. I daily thank the Lord for the blessings He has given me to be able to experience these things and to be in a position to be able to share my joy of flight with others!
Advances in aircraft systems and technologies have made piloting jets easy, safe, and practical. Whether you are a career-minded pilot with an eye on the airlines, or a multi-engine pilot looking to go farther and faster, the advantages of jet transition training are undeniable:
- Fly at twice the speed, arrive in half the time
- Jet pilots fly above the weather, not in it
- Own or lease a jet right here at SRQ
- Build valuable turbine time
- Fly jets certified for single pilot operations
To kick off our new Jet Transition course, Cirrus Aviation is offering a six week jet ground school starting in October. Upon graduation, all students will receive a certificate of completion, valid for 12 months, which satisfies the ground school portion of the SIC/PIC type rating.
- Runs October 5th through November 9th
- Meets Wednesday evenings from 6-8:30pm
- Introductory price of only $499 (normally $2800)
Want to Learn More? Contact Cirrus today at 941-360-9074, or email us at email@example.com
6 Seats, GNS-430 Nav/Comm, GTX-330 Xpndr, 6 place intercom, GMA-430 Audio Panel, Autocontrol IIIB Autopilot, 2 200hp TSIO-360 Lycoming Engines
A week after my lesson in the Redbird with Zubair, I was once again in the Cirrus Aviation lobby with logbook in hand. It was time for the main event: an aerobatics lesson in the Super Decathlon with Michael Christmann. He was right on time.
We shook hands and sat down for a quick pre-flight chat. Michael was aware that I hadn’t flown in years, but it didn’t seem to phase him. He’d apparently flown with other pilots who’d gotten out of the flying habit for a while, and he assured me it would be fine. That was good enough for me, and we walked out to the Super Decathlon after discussing the day’s lesson plan.
After a quick preflight that included installing the GoPro camera inside the cockpit and strapping me into my parachute, Michael hopped into the front seat, fired up the bright green Super D (aka “The Frog”), and we were off and airborne in just a few minutes.
He gave me the controls shortly after takeoff, and directed me out to the east practice area while he handled air traffic control. Once at altitude, he began the lesson by getting me acquainted with the airplane. My first task was Dutch Rolls, a simple maneuver where the pilot adds opposite aileron and rudder so that the airplane banks, but doesn’t roll into the turn. Mine weren’t perfect, but they improved as I got the feel of the Frog, and that was the whole point.
From there we moved on to Chandelles and Lazy Eights; maneuvers I remember from my commercial pilot training which teach the pilot to smoothly fly the airplane while bank angle, airspeed, and angle of attack are all constantly changing. Again, mine weren’t precise or pretty, but they were getting steadily better and were a heck of a lot of fun.
Finally, it was time to try some aerobatics. Michael announced that we were going to do an aileron roll, and he patiently explained what he was doing as the Super D easily and gently rolled inverted and right side up again. “Did you like that?” Michael asked.
I had a grin plastered on my face. “Yeah, it was good!” I said. In fact, I was starting to wonder why pilots ever bother with flying straight and level.
Michael took hold of the grab handles in front of him. “Okay, you have control. You try one.”
I took the stick and put my feet on the rudder pedals as he talked me through the maneuver. I couldn’t really see the instruments from the backseat, but that was Michael’s concern, leaving me with the simple task of flying the plane and following instructions. I dropped the nose to pick up airspeed, pulled up into a climb attitude, neutralized the stick, and then briskly moved it all the way to the left as we rolled inverted and back to blue-side-up again.
“Perfect,” Michael said, though he confessed a moment later that he had “helped” me a little bit.
I immediately realized that I’d forgotten to add rudder in the last ninety degrees of the roll. Rats! “You did, I could tell!” I replied a little sheepishly.
Michael laughed good-naturedly and said, “The next one is all yours”. I repeated the maneuver, this time remembering the rudder, and completed the roll with the hearty approval of my instructor. Score! I’d originally started flying at twenty years old with the dream of becoming a fighter pilot. This had to be the next best thing.
Loops were up next. Michael demonstrated the first one, explaining his control inputs as we pulled up and went inverted, the bright Florida sun tracking across the top of the canopy, then dove towards earth, finally ending up wings level again.
Once again, Michael took hold of the grab bars and gave me the airplane. “Okay, just give it a try.”
I followed Michael’s cool and easy instruction, and pulled back on the stick until earth and sky swapped places. For a moment I was hanging in the straps as the airspeed dropped precipitously with the Super D inverted, and then we came down the other side of the loop, rapidly picked up speed, and pulled back up to straight and level flight. These were even more fun than the aileron rolls.
We did one more, but the road I was supposed to use for reference crazily snaked around in the windshield, revealing my sloppy rudder work. Michael piped up on the intercom, “She didn’t like that.” He was giving me a little friendly teasing, which meant that he was having fun, too.
“No, she didn’t!” I admitted. Michael laughed again, and then took us through a few more non-aerobatic maneuvers, a spin and some steep turns, before we started back to the airport. I handled the plane all the way back at a fast cruise with plenty of nose down trim, but he let me do one more aileron roll on the return, just for fun.
With the stiff crosswind and my lack of tailwheel experience, Michael wisely took control of the Super D right before landing, and taxied us back to Cirrus to put the Frog away for the night. I thanked him for the experience, got into my car for the fifty minute drive home, and reflected on the last two weeks.
After eighteen years out of the cockpit, both my Redbird and aerobatic experiences had given me renewed confidence. The Redbird provided a realistic refresher, complete with sights, movement, and control feel. After only an hour of instruction, I felt near ready to fly a Skyhawk again.
I’ll describe my response to the aerobatic lesson this way: Remember the feeling you had after your first solo, like you could accomplish anything? Flying those loops and rolls myself, taking the airplane through extreme attitudes pilots typically try to avoid, gave me that same feeling. It was also amazing fun.
So, what can we learn from all this? Bottom line is that Redbird and aerobatics lessons can each be immensely valuable to even current and experienced pilots.
The Redbird allows you to do realistic flight training on a “pause and play” basis. Even the best of us have things we need to work on, whether it’s crosswind landings, emergency procedures, instrument approaches, or just learning to be more precise in basic air work. Imagine creating the wind and weather conditions you need for any scenario, at virtually any airport or location. Now throw in the most harrowing emergency situations in complete safety, with the capability to pause at any point to dissect the situation for maximum learning. That’s Redbird training.
As for aerobatics, every pilot ought to take a lesson with an experienced aerobatic instructor. Contemporary flight training curriculums place an appropriate premium on safety. But an often unintended consequence is discomfort with unusual attitudes, and in our effort to quickly do something, we can do the wrong thing and turn an uncomfortable situation into a truly dangerous one.
Professional aerobatics instruction goes a long way toward resolving our discomfort with unusual attitudes. When you’ve looped and rolled and spun, handling the controls yourself, apprehension gives way to confidence as you quickly become comfortable with any flight attitude, knowing what you need to do to get yourself back to wings level again.
And you’ll find no better aerobatics instructor than Michael Christmann. He’s as easy going and unflappable as you’d expect a former fighter pilot to be, but he also has a knack for making you feel at ease so that you can fully enjoy the experience.
As for me, the experience has re-awakened my love for flight. My focus is still on Jordan & Cross, my digital marketing and communications company. But one eye is now back on the sky, thinking about getting current and maybe even doing some instructing again. I might even strap on a parachute and try more aerobatic training, or get my glider or seaplane ratings. The sky’s the limit now.
I arrived at Cirrus Aviation about five minutes before my scheduled 10am Redbird lesson. Up until now, my only experience with a full-motion flight simulator had been in an old World War Two Link Trainer in my sophomore year of college. Today, I was going to train in the cutting-edge Redbird FMX.
No disrespect to the venerable old Link, but it had its share of limitations. For one thing, the pilot had to supply the technology for the visual part of the simulation. It was called “Your Imagination”. Second, what I remember most about the Link was that it would nearly fall over and make a loud “thunk” whenever I attempted a left turn.
The Redbird is a totally different animal. With its wrap-around visual displays, digital glass panel, three-axis movement, and realistic control feedback and feel, the Redbird is true-to-life simulation. This was going to be fun.
My preparation for the lesson was minimal. The first order of business was to find my old logbook. After that, I googled “Redbird glass panel”. I’d never flown with a glass panel before (yes, I’m a “steam gauge” guy), and I wanted to see how it displayed instrument readings before I actually had to use it.
I walked into the Cirrus student center at five minutes before ten and was greeted by Zubair, my instructor for today’s lesson. He shook my hand and asked what I wanted to work on in the Redbird.
“Well,” I said, “let me give you a little background first.” I laid my logbook down on the desk and opened it to the last entry. “I’m a CFI, but my last flight was on June 28th, 1997. I just need to work the rust off before I go up for an aerobatics lesson next week in the Super Decathlon.”
Zubair took it all in stride, but he couldn’t resist the urge to needle me a bit. He glanced up after looking at my logbook and smiled. “So, we’re starting you at the beginning then?” Funny guy. I liked Zubair already.
He fired up the Redbird and we climbed inside. The plan for today’s lesson was a pretty straightforward checkout: turns to headings to get the feel, then slow flight, a stall series, and finish up with touch and goes.
Zubair lined me up for a straight out departure from runway 32 at SRQ, and I took the controls for a normal takeoff and climbout. I was surprised at how realistic the views were from the cockpit, and was amazed at the feel and backpressure I got from the controls (and no loud “thunks” when making a turn!)
Zubair talked me through the turns, stalls, and slow flight, and though I wasn’t nailing the headings and altitudes with checkride-worthy precision, I wasn’t that far off. But the fun part was the touch and goes. We did seven or eight trips around the pattern in various wind conditions, and I actually felt like I was back in a Skyhawk again, craning my head around to get a peek at the runway to determine the beginning of my turn to base, and again when I was preparing to turn to final.
When he was satisfied that we’d met our goal of getting me ready for my aerobatic lesson, Zubair decided that it was time to have some fun. He reset the Redbird for San Diego, and set me up on a northbound course just off the coast. After chuckling to himself and making some inputs to the sim program, Zubair looked at me and said, “Just try and keep it in the air.”
The next 20 minutes was a series of wild rides, with a one thousand pound man in the backseat and a ridiculously aft CG, to variable winds at what seemed like hurricane velocities, coupled with engine failures and total electrical system failures.
We ended the Redbird lesson at 1.0 on the hobbs, and Zubair wrote the first entry in my logbook in eighteen years. The aim had been simply to work out the kinks in preparation for my aerobatic lesson, and we certainly managed that. But I also walked away with much more.
First of all, I’d started my lesson in the Redbird wondering if I still even knew how to fly after eighteen years. But I quickly realized that all of those hours of flight training and practice were still in me just waiting to be accessed. In response to control feel, visual cues from the displays, and instrument indications, my hands, feet, and eyes just seemed to know where to go even before my mind appreciated what was happening.
Second, I am now a major fan of simulation-based training. The realism of the Redbird makes it incredibly useful and time/cost efficient for all kinds of training scenarios from instrument training, to emergency procedures, to simple practice of most any training maneuver.
Even the “wild” rides we did for fun in the last 20 minutes proved useful. Zubair programmed the simulation so that the airplane was operating outside of normal approved limitations, effectively making me a test pilot. Each of those scenarios forced me to quickly assess what the airplane was doing and why, and what I needed to do as a result to try and get the plane safely on the ground.
Our mission had been accomplished. When I got into the Redbird, I thought I would need ten or more hours before I could fly the 172 again. When I climbed out, I was convinced I could do it in two or three, and I was starting to look forward to my aerobatic lesson with Michael Christmann.
Cirrus Aviation recently brought on CFI Michael Christmann and his Super Decathlon to teach aerobatics, upset recovery, and tailwheel transition. I was doing some work on the Cirrus website, and was given a reasonably straightforward task- take pictures of the bright green Super D, write a description of the course offerings, and post it to the website. Simple.
While on the Super D assignment, I had the opportunity to talk with Michael one-on-one. His love for aviation was infectious, and his impressive knowledge of stick and rudder skills had me itching to go fly. I’m a former flight instructor myself, though I haven’t flown for nearly eighteen years. But spending time on this project with Cirrus had me thinking seriously about getting current again.
It turns out that my sentiments did not go unnoticed by my client. I was meeting with Nayda, one of Cirrus’ owners, working on a way to get the word out to pilots about the benefits of aerobatics and tailwheel instruction when Nayda stopped mid-sentence as if she’d just had an epiphany.
She did. Nayda and her husband David had been conspiring for awhile to get me back in the air, and apparently the moment of truth had arrived.
“I’ve got it!” Nayda said. “How about you go up in the Super Decathlon with Michael and write about the experience?”
“Yeah,” I said, “that‘s a great idea.” From the expression on Nayda’s face I realized that while my mouth said it was a great idea, the look on my own face said, “Really? There isn’t some other poor soul we could talk into doing this?”
My bluff was called, and it was time for me to lay my cards on the table. On several occasions I’d mentioned my desire to get back in the air “someday”. Well, someday was today.
We would have a GoPro video camera along to record the flight, and all I could think of at the time was that my ineptitude in the cockpit after so long a time away could result in an unintentionally funny viral video. And I didn’t even want to think about the possibility of getting airsick. I had visions of making the list of Top 10 YouTube picks for 2015: “Former flight instructor gets sick in Super D! Hilarious!!”
Nayda, consummate aviation pro that she is, realized my pride was on the line and threw me a bone. “How about we have you do a lesson in the Redbird Flight Simulator first…just to work off the rust?”
I could work with that. “Sounds good.” I said. She scheduled me the next week in the Redbird with Zubair, one of their CFIs, and for a flight with Michael Christmann in the Super Decathlon the week after that.
I was grateful for the opportunity to “fly” the Redbird first, and started to warm to the whole plan. Little did I know what a help the Redbird lesson would be, or how useful both the Redbird and aerobatic instruction could be in sharpening the skills and boosting the confidence of any pilot.