LPF 2 | Aviation Instructor

From Pilot To Aviation Instructor With Steve Smith


A career in aviation may seem too far off for some, but through our guest, many have been introduced to various careers in the aviation world. Steve Smith, activities director and aviation instructor at Canyon High School at Orange Unified School District, is someone who was able to create and build an aviation pathway program from scratch where he now teaches ground school. In this episode, Steve shares with us how he got started in aviation and later on decided to teach it to kids. He takes us back to his time going through CFI, building hours, and through the regionals while giving financial advice on the side. He also touches on his aviation program and what the pathway looks like from beginning to end.

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From Pilot To Aviation Instructor With Steve Smith

I interviewed Steve Smith. He started out his career as a regional airline pilot that Mesa Airlines. He eventually left the airline world and became a math teacher due to his love for people. He wasn’t done though. At his high school, he was able to create and build an aviation pathway program from scratch where he now teaches ground school as an aviation instructor introducing kids to various careers in the aviation world. To find out more about my aviation-related podcasts and blog, please check out www.TheLevelPlaneField.com. If you have any financial questions, consult your attorney, accountant or financial advisor. If you’re interested in how I help airline pilots as a certified financial planner practitioner, please visit www.PacUnited.com.

Steve Smith, welcome to the show. You’re the Activities Director and then Aviation Instructor at Canyon High School at Orange Unified School District, which is in Anaheim, California. You’re a former airline pilot and now you’re teaching the aviation program over there at the high school amongst other things. What’s unique about your situation from what I understand is there are few high school aviation programs in the United States. I’m excited to be able to talk to you about this. Welcome aboard, Steve.

Thank you very much.

Thanks for joining us. Let’s talk about yourself first. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Steve Smith?

I have been married for several years and I’ve got three kids: 11, 9 and 7, two boys and a girl. They keep me busy these days and I love it. I’m teaching and still getting to fly a little bit.

You still got to fly a little bit nowadays.

It’s an expensive hobby. I don’t get to fly as often as I would like and sometimes it’s out of busyness as well. It’s hard to find the time to do that and have fun and go fly. I still get to go and my family enjoys it. Once in a while, I’ll go with a student.

That’s cool that you still got to go up in the air. To start us off with, what got you into aviation in the first place? At what age did you get into it? When and how did you decide to start with your licensing?

I would say I am not the norm as far as pilots go. I feel like there is a lot in the pilot world who grew up with a love and fascination for airplanes. They’d go hang out at the airport and watch planes take off and land. I still hear that from some of my students. That wasn’t me. I never thought about being a pilot when I was growing up. It wasn’t something I talked about. For me, I went through high school, went into college, I went to Baylor University in Texas and I went in as a pre-veterinary major. I wanted to be a veterinarian and was interested in something along those lines. As I took classes and settled in, I didn’t love the idea as much anymore.

I wasn’t loving the science classes that I was taking. I was thinking, “I don’t know if this is something that I can be passionate about for the next few years.” There’s still schooling that if you don’t love it, it becomes difficult to keep up. I said, “Maybe I need to reassess what it is I want to do as a career. I started looking, and this was my sophomore year. I was still taking the science classes because I hadn’t closed that door yet, but I was starting to talk to other departments on campus and trying to figure out what was out there and what careers were appealing to me. It was tough. I talked to a lot of people, asked a lot of questions and ended up in the aviation science department. My brother had at one point talked about an interest in aviation. I thought I could get some information for him, ask him questions. When I sat down and we started talking and they were explaining the program to me, the classes I would take, they said, “You would start your flight training next semester.” It caught me off-guard. I hadn’t thought about the idea of flying an airplane. I said, “You’re going to let me fly an airplane?” They said, “You have to. That’s part of your grade.” I said, “Okay.”

It was interesting and it was different. I liked the idea of pursuing a job that not everyone else was talking about. If you say, “I’m pre-med or pre-vet,” you get a ton of those on a college campus. I was like, “This is unique and it’s different.” It was something I hadn’t considered. I took information home for the Christmas break that year between my fall and spring semesters and talked it over with my parents. They said, “If that’s what you want to do, go for it.” I went back to school after the break and declared my major in aviation and started taking classes right away. About a month in I did my first flight lesson. That was exciting. I did training through the rest of that semester. I went home for summer that year, so I took a little bit of time off from flying while I was home for the summer and then came back in the fall and kept going.

I got my private pilot’s license and kept going from there. For me, being a college student, it was about a license every year. I did my private pilot’s license in about a year, my instrument rating in about a year, commercial license in about a year, everything took about a year. Because I was late in declaring my major, I finished my classes before I finished my flying. I finished all my classes. My last year at Baylor, I had a lot of flying to do, so I was working on that. I came back to California and did some training out here for my flight instructor’s license and then ended up going back to Texas to finish everything up there. I officially graduated in August of 2002.

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I know Baylor, from what I believe, is a little bit unique in that it has its own aviation program built into it.

There are four-year schools that have aviation programs, but it’s definitely not something that’s offered at the majority of universities. It was unique. I didn’t know anything about it when I walked into that office. To this day, I’ve met with them. I met with them when I was starting up my program here at the high school and they said, “We pride ourselves on not being a big program that’s out there promoting itself.” At the time, they were happy with where they were at and it was quality over quantity. It is fairly unique. There are others, but it’s, it’s definitely not everywhere.

A program like that in Baylor, they help you go through all the licensing, all the way up to your commercial. How much does that aviation program even cost? Can you get student loans for it? Is that eligible for scholarships or grants, federal loans and stuff like that?

With flight training, if you wanted to get all of your licenses and become a flight instructor and do all of that, you could do it at your local airport and never go to college. Doing it at a college, you’re going to be working on a degree as well, whether it’s an Associate’s degree at a community college or a Bachelor’s at a university. When you’re doing it at a school, you do have more options as far as grants and scholarships and student loans. If you’re doing it at your local airport, there typically are not student loans to help you cover that cost. My understanding is that most universities, this is the way it was for me at Baylor and I’m assuming that it’s the same way at most universities, your program is going to cost about the same as any other degree, but flight training is an additional expense.

You’re talking about the rental costs and maybe even the flight instruction costs.

With flight training, whether you’re doing it at a university or a local airport, the costs are typically the renting of the airplane and the instructor that’s flying with and teaching you. It’s the same way, you’re typically paying by the hour. If you fly three times that week, you’re going to pay for those three lessons. If you fly ten times that week, you’re paying for ten lessons. The cost is usually you pay as you go.

There’s a minimum number of hours required in order to get to the regionals, to the airlines. Did they have something built-in where you are able to build hours in the meantime? Did you have to go to a local airport, do the whole CFI thing? How did you build your hours?

The most common is to become a CFI, which is a flight instructor. People go and they get their private, their instrument, their commercial and then they become a CFI. When you instruct other students, then you are able to log that time for yourself as well. A CFI is typically your first paying gig as a pilot. Now you’re making some income and you’re getting to log time while you’re with those students. That’s typically the way people will build flight time. Even if you go rent a plane and fly your family out to dinner or something like that, all of that is loggable time and it all counts towards those total hours that required to go to an airline eventually. The difference is are you paying for it or is someone else paying for it?

I know there are ranges throughout the country of how much work you get, but typically as a CFI, how much are you making? What’s the income range? What’s the schedule like as a CFI?

Starting with the schedule, it depends on you. I instructed at a flying club here at Fullerton Airport and in California and I had a lot of freedom over my schedule. I could give myself the weekend off or I could fly 24/7 if there were students that wanted that. I stayed pretty busy because I wanted to build my hours and that was my job. That was my income. The more I worked, the more I earned, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You could do Monday through Friday. The problem is you’re a little bit at the mercy of your students’ schedules. If they are busy all week long and the only time they can fly is on the weekend, then either you opt out and get them paired up with a different instructor or you adjust your schedule and you start flying on the weekends. There’s flexibility and it depends. Sometimes you’ve got to fly at night because students have to log a certain number of nighttime hours. Maybe you’re going in later that day so you can do some night flights as well. The schedule is very fluid and it could be that weather’s bad for a week and you’re hardly flying at all. When the weather’s great, you’re trying to make up for lost time with students and keep them flying.

LPF 2 | Aviation Instructor


What’s the typical income range?

This is where I’m probably a little out of the loop because it’s been so long since I’ve done it. I know we had a speaker come into our class not that long ago and he mentioned flight instructor pay being somewhere in the $45,000 to $55,000 range, which is good compared to when I did it. When I was going through all of my stuff, my instructing and, and trying to get on with the airlines, it was much closer to 9/11. There nearly wasn’t much activity in the aviation industry. The pay was way down because there were a lot of pilots and not a lot of jobs and they didn’t have to pay as much. Even instructors I would say we’re making probably half of what they’re making now. That $45,000 to $55,000 range is probably a pretty good number if you’re staying fairly busy.

You did the CFI thing for a little while and you’re flying reporters or something like that at the local airport before you got hired by the airlines.

I instructed full-time for a couple of years and then at Fullerton Airport where I was flying, you get to know people on the field from being around all the time. Aviation is a lot of making connections and networking and who you know. It is a small world and people are typically happy to help each other get where they want to go. One of the guys I knew from being on the field was flying traffic reporters around in a Cessna 172. He was starting to apply for the airlines and he said, “If you’re interested, you could apply to be a backup pilot with me and potentially move in and take this over when I move on.” I said, “I would love to do that.”

He set me up with his bosses down in San Diego. I went down to San Diego and did an interview and they hired me to do traffic. Shortly after, the other guy Jason moved on to the regionals and I started doing traffic full-time. With the traffic watch, it was an interesting gig because the pay wasn’t good, but it was a lot of flying. It was a great way to build hours and it was a lot of good flying with students. You’re typically looking for good weather, you’re flying the same maneuvers over and over, things like that. You learn a lot by teaching other people but with the traffic stuff, it was a ton of work on the radios. We’re constantly in and out of everyone’s airspace. Even if the weather wasn’t great, we were trying to go. Sometimes we’re flying IFR routes and getting on top of the weather so that we could be airborne. We had to be creative and learn how to work within the system. It was a great experience. We’d fly about three hours in the morning from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM and then 2 to 3 hours in the afternoon.

I was flying close to six hours a day and now I was getting to do all the flying instead of watching the students fly. It was a good gig, a good job. I kept instructing for a little bit to help students finish up that were already with me. It was too hard to do both because I’d be up at 4:30 AM to get out to the airport and do that early morning shift and to have to be back at the airport in the afternoon to do students in between or in the evenings. It was too difficult. I slowly phased out of instructing, other than maybe doing someone a favor here and there, and blew traffic full-time. I did that for a couple of years before getting over to the regionals.

What was life like as a regional pilot then? What was the scheduling like? Were you married at that point or were you single?

I was just married. It’s a crazy ride. You have to know what you’re getting into and you have to be flexible. There are a lot more options now, more negotiable items now for pilots than there were back at my time. For me, it was ‘05 when I finally got to go to ground school and go to the regionals. My wife and I got married in October of ‘04 and I officially got hired about a month later with Mesa Air. They’re based out of Phoenix and got my ground school date. There weren’t a lot of ground schools being offered because the hiring was still slow at that time. About a week before my ground school date, it got postponed. About a week or two later, it got postponed again. It ended up being a few months before I got to go to ground school. For ground school, I went to Phoenix and I had four weeks of school there in Phoenix. My wife stayed in California. She was working as an elementary school teacher and, we kind of, she came out and visited on the weekends or things like that. For the most part, I was living and breathing in aviation because there, it’s a ton of information. Going from a small Cessna to a jet is a huge transition. There are tons to learn about how airlines operate, all the regulations involved. There was a ton of work to do. I was in a class all day, every day and then I’d go back to my hotel room at night and study. That was the first four weeks of ground school.

Assuming you do well and you pass all your tests through ground school, then you go onto simulator training and for the simulators you get partnered up with somebody. We lived in some housing that they had there near the simulator building. Our lesson time was midnight to 2:00. It was the same facility that the pilots would come in for all their recurrent training and things like that. We got the short end of the stick. We would have our simulator lessons at night and then one person would go and the other one would observe. We would switch seats. One person would be in the left seat, one would be in the right seat. We had an instructor that’s there talking you through everything and then you would switch. After both of us were done with our lessons, we go home, go to sleep, and then we’d get up the next morning and start studying together. We’ve got cockpit posters on the wall and we’re running procedures and memorizing what buttons do. That was our focus. Our full-time job is learning how to fly the plane and run procedures and deal with emergencies and all of that.

They paid you this entire time, when you’re in ground school and training and everything?

Yes, but it wasn’t much, especially being back then versus now. Regional airline pay was notoriously low back then. My salary for my first year was about $21,000, which is below the poverty line in most places, and then you’re responsible for 50 to 90 passengers.

It’s crazy. Now, it’s $40,000 to $50,000 or something like that as a first officer.

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They’re doing signing bonuses and tuition reimbursements and all kinds of stuff. I would say your first year is probably closer to $60,000. Your second year is maybe a little bit less because of signing bonuses and things like that, but you’re also going to progress within the airline a lot faster. The pay is completely different. It’s much better.

What type of benefits do they give you? They give you health coverage. Do they have a retirement plan like a 401(k)? Do they have profit sharing?

From the regional perspective, you’ve got health benefits. I believe we had the option of a 401(k), but there was no matching or anything like that. I know with the majors like American United, Delta, Southwest, that’s a completely different ballgame as far as benefits go and everything else. Even the regionals might be different now. I don’t know what they’re offering at this point. I know it’s all better, but I don’t know what it is.

Looking at your time going through the CFI thing, building hours, going through the regionals, what’s one financial advice that you would give people who are going through that situation?

I would say my best advice always is live within your means. It’s always easy to take on a lot of debt and then it gets difficult to pay it off. I would say that was something that I was always pretty good about. I did take debt. I’d had student loans, but I also was aware of those interest rates. I was always paying more than the minimum payment to get rid of that debt as quickly as possible. When I was flying, one of the things that the airlines required was 100 hours of multi-engine time. Unless you were instructing students in multi-engine aircraft, there weren’t great opportunities to build multi-engine time.

It’s expensive too.

Even to go become a multi-engine instructor is a decent expense and then you’re at the mercy of are there other students out there needing that time? You’ve got to work at a school that offers a multi-engine plane because a lot of schools don’t. I didn’t do that. Through the pilot grapevine, I heard about a program in Florida where you could pay for 100 hours of flight time and the catch was you had to fly overnight. They will rent the airplanes from 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM. They gave you a great deal because they’re using them for training during the day, but most of the time flight schools aren’t flying their airplanes at night. I went to Florida. I took a loan and bought 100 hours of multi-engine time in Florida and I flew all night for about ten nights. I did about ten hours a night for ten nights in a row.

That’s quick.

It was rough. It was hard because you’re up all night long. Ten hours of flying is a ton in a day, let alone in the night but it was cool. We were doing instrument flights and flying across all over Florida. I landed at about every single airport in Florida. It was a good experience, but I came home with that debt and then I paid it off as quickly as possible because I knew I already had a good chunk of hours. I had 3,000 hours of flight time. Without that 100 hours of multi-engine time, no one was going to offer me an interview and I had to go get it.

After leaving the airlines, you decided to become a teacher. Tell us about what you’re doing over there at Canyon High School then.

LPF 2 | Aviation Instructor


I’ll give you a little bit of the transition there too. I got to a point flying with the airlines that I realized that I was craving people. I love working with people, getting to know people, helping people. Being an airline pilot, you have a lot of downtime in hotels and airports. I was always good about if I’m in a new place, I would leave the hotel and go explore and make the most of it. I loved doing that but at the same time, I was starting to question whether this was something that I could do for a 30-year career. I felt like I needed to do something different. I never got tired of the flying, I loved the flying, but I talked to my wife about it and I said, “I need to make a change. What do you think?” She was supportive and said, “If that’s what you want to do, go for it.”

I had thought about teaching high school in the past when 9/11 happened and nobody was hiring pilots. I was thinking what is something else that I would enjoy doing? I thought about teaching high school then, so I circled back to that idea. The easiest way for me to transition into that was for us to move back to California. I had to quit my airline job and we moved back to California. My wife continued to teach elementary school and I went to night school to do my credential and my Master’s as quickly as I could. I substitute taught for a year while I was doing the schooling. The next year, I was a math teacher.

It was a quick transition. Everything went smooth. It reaffirmed for me that I made the right move and that it was what I was supposed to do. I started teaching math at Canyon High School and a few years into it, I saw some of the other programs we had on campus. In the early years we had auto shop and we have things like graphic design and photography. There are lots of different career-based programs. I was going, “How could I do a pilot class? Could I do a pilot ground school?” I started asking questions and a lot of people thought it was a good idea, but didn’t know how to get it started, how to do that.

It’s one thing if you’re trying to take on a program that’s already being taught at other schools, but to create one from scratch was a much bigger animal. It took some time, a year or two of talking to people and it finally got to a point where we had a new person at our district office and she was someone that I had known from Canyon a few years prior. I said, “What do you think about this?” She said, “I love it. Let’s do it. Let’s make it happen.” We started looking into the process and the Orange County Department of Ed got involved and helped us do a big grant proposal with the state. My vision was to have one period of private pilot ground school class, but if we were going to qualify for this program, we had to have a three-year pathway.

They said, “Can you do three classes?” I hadn’t thought about that. We played with it a little bit and I said, “I can do three classes. We’ll find a way.” We created three levels of aviation classes and then started rolling them out one year at a time. We didn’t have to implement all three in the first year because they have to build off of each other. We rolled out the first one and then the next year we added another class. The year after that, we added another level. Now we’re at a point where the program continues to grow slowly. This year we’re up to about 100 students in our aviation program and four different classes. It’s pretty cool.

Talk a little bit about the aviation program. It’s a ground school for students. Let’s say freshman year, can they join any other years? What does that pathway look like from beginning to end?

We have a freshman-level class. Coming into 2019 was the first year that we implemented an application process because of it continuing to grow and not knowing if we could take all of the students that were interested into the program until we hire more staff. We have a freshman-level class. Any freshmen wanting to go into the aviation program have to take that class. It’s a Careers in Aviation class. It’s pretty broad. We talk about all kinds of different things like air traffic control and maintenance, engineering, space and the history of aviation. It’s a broad aviation class. From there, the next year is Aviation One and that’s where we start getting into more of the private pilot content. We start to introduce them to some of the material that they’re going to need to know if they want to become a pilot.

It’s also broad enough that we talk about the drone side of being a pilot. We still talk about things like air traffic control and maintenance because I’ve had students go all the way through the program and their desire the whole time was to be an aircraft mechanic, air traffic controller or aerospace engineer. I don’t want it to be focused on, “No, we only do pilot here.” Being that we have three years, I’m able to keep it broad enough that students can still see value in it even if they do not want to become a professional pilot. If they want to join that second year, any sophomores through seniors that want to get into aviation for the first time, they could join that second-year class.

They would skip the freshman class and go into an aviation one. Our Aviation Two class is the full-blown ground school. We cover all the content required for a private pilot’s license and those are only students that have already taken aviation one and they’re back for more. Through Aviation One and Two and with a little intro in the career focus class, we have some cool flight simulators. We do flight lessons. I took all the flight lessons I used to do with students in actual airplanes and broke them up into smaller pieces and created lessons for students to do on the stimulators in the classroom. We do that during class time, about once a week as part of their training.

That’s fun to be able to use simulators too and that’s not just textbook and memorization of different items and stuff like that. You’re able to apply all that, whatever they’re learning by using simulators.

The simulators are huge because for some students, that’s the thing they look forward to the most. I have students that are in the student center with me every nutrition and lunch coming in to fly the simulators. They’re doing it in their off time as well, but they give students a chance to practice what we’re talking about in class so they get some hands-on application. It’s basically set up like a Cessna 172. We’ve got full controls, pedals on the floor and three screens to give them a good view. They’re run on actual flight lessons. Then they’re also learning how to fly planes because as they go out and go do flight training on their own, our students are getting through their actual flight training fast because they’ve already learned it. They already know how to do it. It’s pretty cool how well it translates to the actual flight plan.

I’ll say it does help. I’ve been doing flight sims for many years now. I started my PPL training. I have about 6 hours in the Cherokee now. I would say it definitely helps a lot as far as being able to fly the plane, maintain a level altitude, climbs, turns, all that stuff. It does help. Even talking to ATC, it does definitely help. One thing that I need to work on is looking outside the window instead of focusing on instruments because as a sim pilot, that’s what you tend to focus in on.

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Usually in the sims, the views out the window aren’t that great. You’re focused on all the stuff in the cockpit, but that’s a huge benefit as well. You’re learning to read the instruments, learning where’s the throttle, where’s the mixture, where’s the trim. All those things were things that when I started flying in my sophomore year of Baylor, I knew nothing about airplanes. I felt lost and behind because it was overwhelming. Everything was brand new to me. I feel like these students are going and jumping in an airplane and if you let them, they could go fly it. It may not be perfect or pretty, but they know enough to go do it all without even having an hour in an actual airplane. It’s amazing.

What’s next for you? What’s next for the aviation program over there?

I always love getting students to go fly. I’m always trying to encourage them to at least go out and do a demo flight at a flight school or go do some flight training. To date, we’ve had about 10 or 11 students get their license while they’ve been high school students still. It’s cool when there are high school students on campus that are licensed pilots, but that’s obviously not the majority. The majority of them aren’t ready or it’s time commitment or financial commitment. I’m pushing them outside the classroom and trying to get them to go do internships or flying or whatever. I’ve got a few students that work at different airports. We’ve had students that have done internships at maintenance facilities or an aerospace engineering internship or working at different airports as an intern while they’re still in high school.

That’s a big one for me because they’re getting to go do it as a program. I’m hesitantly hoping it continues to grow. It’s getting a little bit too big for me. That’s why I say it hesitantly because it’s always tricky to grow and bring in new people, but it’s a good problem to have. I’m anxious to see it every year, waiting to see what the numbers are going to look like next year and then how do we proceed. I want to see our program stick around for a long time. It’s a lot more work than being a math teacher, but it’s fun to get to do something with students that they’re into. We get cool guest speakers and we make some pretty neat field trips and we get to go do aviation experiences.

We have things like guest speakers. We’ve had all the airlines come in, American United, Delta, regionals, UPS and FedEx. We’ve had a NASA pilot and every branch of the military. We get all kinds of people coming in to speak to students and share what they do and how they got there. That’s pretty cool too. For me going into aviation, all I knew was an airline pilot. That was pretty much it. I didn’t know what else there was to do. There are so many things that students can do in aviation, whether it’s on the business side of aviation or different types of pilots or now with drones taking such a big role. We don’t even know what jobs are going to be available to these students when they get a little bit older because it’s changing all the time.

That’s exciting that you’re bringing in aviation to these young individuals and having them experience it and things like that. That’s definitely not something I ever went through when I went through school, but it’s probably something I would’ve been interested in going through high school and stuff like that. For the readers out there, is there anything that people can do to help you and your program?

I love spreading the word that we exist because my goal is to get students coming into the program that does have an interest in aviation and a desire to go do something with these classes and with that learning because I feel like we can offer students a big head start if they’re interested in getting into the aviation industry. We do it every year. We have students that are transferring in from other school districts because they want to be in the aviation program, which is cool because then I know they’re dedicated. They’re making a big change because they want to do this. I’m always trying to spread the word about our program and what we have to offer, the benefit it has for students. Financially, for equipment, the six simulators we have in the classroom are expensive and their computer parts start to go bad. Computers need to be updated, things like that. That support is always helpful and beneficial. Anytime there’s someone who has a unique background or willingness to help us pull off a cool field trip or come in and speak to the students about sharing their story and their experiences, that’s always cool.

Thank you so much for joining me. We’re going to end with a couple of fun questions. What did you fly over at the regional? Was it an Embraer or a CRJ?

It was a CRJ. We had the CRJ 200, 700 and 900. It was 50, 70 and 90 passenger planes. We were licensed to fly all three. Sometimes you show up and you were flying the 200 and other times you were showing up and flying the 700 depending on the shift.

Out of everything that you’ve ever flown, what would you say is your favorite aircraft?

LPF 2 | Aviation Instructor


My first student, after he got his license, he retired and bought a seaplane. He took me with him to Muskoka Canada, north of Toronto. We took this plane up and we flew it from there all the way back to California. It’s an amphibious plane so it has gear and stuff that come out of the belly. It’s a Lake 200, and so the belly of the plane was the boat and it had these butterfly doors and you push your prop up on top. It was a unique airplane. People always looked at it when you’re parked at an airport. Landing on the water was a cool experience. He and I flew that together quite a bit. He had his license. He always liked me to go with him because he said my CFI stood for Cheap Flight Insurance to make sure he didn’t get himself into trouble. I have a lot of time in that plane. That was definitely one of my favorites because it was fun. The CRJ was the only jet I ever flew, but it’s a different experience after being at smaller planes for over 3,000 hours. To get in a jet and do that was pretty awesome.

There was a Citation, it was a CJ 3 or something like that, taxi past us. I imagine it would be a cool experience flying a jet. The last question, do you have any interesting or maybe even funny aviation story that you’d like to share?

I’ve got plenty, but one that is fun to share and especially when I’m talking to my students and things like that is my first flight with the airline because a lot of people don’t realize that the simulator training is all you get with the airlines. I went from flying Cessna 172s to training in a jet, but all of my training was in the classroom and in the simulators. My first flight in the jet was with passengers onboard. I remember standing at the jetway smiling and waving at people as they come on and in my head I’m thinking, “They have no idea that I’ve never flown this jet before.” That probably makes people nervous about hearing that, but the training is good that you can do that. You can translate it right over. I remember that being a surreal experience.

Do they even have you go out there and do patterns or anything like that?


How is that actual first flight then for you?

It was great. You’re with a training captain, somebody that’s got a lot of hours and they’re there to help you ease in and they could easily fly the plane by themselves if you weren’t doing your job. It wasn’t a high-stress situation. It was a cool opportunity. You go through four weeks of training in the airplane and fly in the line. Those four weeks were out of Phoenix before I moved back east.

Steve Smith, thank you for joining us. It was great listening to you about your experiences as a regional pilot, about the aviation pathway program that you guys are doing at the school. It’s great that you’re introducing aviation to young individuals. Keep on doing what you’re doing. Hopefully, you guys got what you need and you guys keep on growing. That’s awesome. Thank you.

Thank you.

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About Steve Smith

LPF 2 | Aviation InstructorSteve Smith started out his career as a regional airline pilot at Mesa Airlines. He eventually left the airline world and became a math teacher due to his love for people.

He wasn’t done though. At his high school, he was able to create and build an aviation pathway program from scratch, where he now teaches ground school as an Aviation Instructor, introducing kids to various careers in the aviation world.

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