Now I'm not one to hoard or hang on to most things too long (fooey - just ask my wife) but it came to the renewal of my Flight Instructor certificates last month and I honestly thought about letting them go by the wayside. There were regrets, to be sure; after all, I worked hard for them and have always thought the profession a noble one. 42 years have gone by as a CFI; that's nothing to sneeze at.
John and Pat Henderson in the late 1940s/early 50s
If I had mentors it was without their knowing. I always looked up to the first Flight Instructor with whom I was acquainted: John Henderson, who eked out a living at the Silver Springs Air Park in Florida. John was a civilian instructor during The War (WWII) and settled with his wife and family in rudimentary quarters in the early 1950s. Eventually things improved and John became an aviation icon in that part of the world. I never flew with him but he has always flown with me.
Mentor #2 has to be a fellow who guided a lot of us through his books, experiences and good humor: Bill Kershner. We met when Son John was a student at St. Andrews School at Sewanee TN. The airport where Bill held forth was just down the road a bit. What a neat guy .. veteran of thousands of spins while teaching basic aerobatics and upset recovery to students from around the world, a former Naval Aviator, corporate pilot and demo pilot for Piper Aircraft Company. Bill started out with a wish, then a dream, then put his dream into action working as a line boy fueling and hand propping airplanes, sweeping floors, soloing at 16 and working his way up. His career timing was perfect.
The modern day flight instructor has to jump through a few hoops to start his students .. it used to be that a third class medical certificate served as a student pilot certificate; nowadays the certificate is issued by FAA after a vetting process to ensure the student doesn't pose a threat to security. 9/11 changed a lot of things and flying is definitely one of them.
Despite the hurdles, the CFI is still the key to preserving our heritage of freedom to fly the skies of the USA. Without the CFI there are no new students to grow or maintain the system .. nothing new there .. and without the CFI there are no new ratings issued for instrument, multiengine, and all the endorsements required at the various levels of a pilot's experience.
So I renewed. I still harbor the dream of teaching my grandchildren to fly and local pilot friends challenge me with questions that keep me on my toes, which is good for me and, I hope, for them. Another local CFI of my vintage is a great counsel as well and we compare notes often. It is a fine fraternity (or sorority, as several of my CFI friends are women) and I am glad to remain in their company.