Alexander Pena! With over 60 FAA Safety Credits and this winning essay I think you’ll agree we chose wisely! Alexander receives $750 in cash and training programs for being a real inspiration to other pilots!
I started flying in 1981 when I was 18 and earned my private in about 7 months with full intentions of immediately pursuing my CFII, and eventually ATP. As with many, life and finances got in the way and the time just slipped away.
When I stopped flying in the 80’s, I had about 120 hours, and it wasn’t till 28 years later when I started flying again. It was always a deep desire to get current again, but the longer I stayed out of flying, the more monumental the task seemed. I am 54 now, and though the dream of a airline flying career are probably behind me, I am convinced that somewhere there must be something I could still do to stay involved in aviation.
Three years ago when my son started becoming interested in flying, I decided that this was the time to stop making excuses, and if I wanted to be part of his experience and share my passion with him, I needed to get myself back into flying. I still didn’t have the finances to support the amount of instruction I felt I probably needed to become current and safe, so I decided to start saving, and in the mean time study as much as I could on my own till I had enough for at least 10 hours minimum of dual lessons, and more realistically 15-20 hours. I first started by re activating my memberships with AOPA and EAA, then started looking into ground school courses. I quickly learned that the price of most professional courses, although very well structured, was more than I could afford at the time, so started looking to alternatives. With the help of the Internet I found the FAASAFETY program, and through it links to many online lessons, webinars and various seminars offered by the FAA, as well as many private organizations offering free course material.
It wasn’t long before I was well on my way to getting reacquainted with all the changes that have occurred in my absence from flying, as well as basic flight fundamentals. I found course selection material from airspace, towered airport operations, weather just to name a few. Also found many safety related ones such as setting personal limits, resource and risk management, and evaluating ones fitness, both mentally and physically to fly, all of which were not taught when I originally learned to fly.
After about a year of self study I talked to a local FBO and signed up for their 10 hour tail wheel course, an endorsement I had always wanted to obtain. I started the course September 2016, and through the patience of the instructors I obtained my tail wheel endorsement and completed my Flight Review in a Super Cub in 18 hours by January 2017. Not having funds to seriously pursue a rating such as Instrument or CFI, I was once again faced with the challenge of how to continue to fly in order to stay proficient enough to be safe, but also to have goals to reach for, that were in my limited financial range.
I turned once again to the FAASafety website, and since I was still actively taking courses and listening to webinars and building credits, (about 50 in the last 24 months, see attached .pdf) I started looking at the flight requirements for the different levels of the Wings program. I then presented the information to my instructor and together created a lesson program that to date has earned me Phase 3 of the Basic Wings, and Phase 1 of both the Advanced and Masters Wings level, and plan on continuing to advance as long as I can.
One of the courses I found on the FAASAFETY program was for a UAS rating which intrigued me since drones are a fast and furious industry, and if I can’t fly for a living, maybe I could get hired to fly UAS’s instead. Since I had recently completed a Flight Review and met all the other requirements with my private certificate I decided to take the course and soon earned a UAS Remote Pilot Rating.
While listening to a EAA webinar I found on the course list on FAASAFETY I learned about the VMC club and the program and it sounded just like something that would help keep me involved in aviation even when I couldn’t fly, but unfortunately there was no such club in
Arizona. I contacted the local chapters in my area and asked if they had considered starting a program but neither were interested or were too busy with other chapter duties. After some soul searching, I contacted EAA and asked about starting a VMC club myself but was told that the club was set up to be part of the local chapter system and needed to coordinate through the chapter. After telling them I already contacted them and was told they weren’t interested. EAA contacted the local chapters on my behalf only to get the same response. As a result, EAA changed the program parameters which allowed me to start a VMC Club independent of the local chapters. I formed the club and arranged to get a CFI to be present at meetings from my Local FBO, and we had our first meeting this last October which was a resounding success, and the perfect platform to promote the faasafety program, and I have recently applied for and have taken the training to be a FAASAFETY Representative in order to provide wings credit as a way of encouraging pilots to stay involved. Our inaugural meeting will be held in December and Radek Wyrzykowski, EAA Manager of Flight Proficiency and founder of the IMC/VMC Clubs will be flying in from New York to be in attendance.
During a pleasure flight I was thinking of other ways I could give back, and seeing many children in the public viewing area watching the planes through the fence and talking about how they wish they could fly in an airplane, I remembered hearing about the EAA Young Eagle Program. I contacted EAA and after completing a background check and few other details and training I earned the privileges of being a Young Eagle Flight Leader. I have given two flights to date, and can say the experience is very rewarding and hope to give many more children the joy of their first flight.
Not sure if an aviation career is possible this late in life, but one thing for certain is I plan on being as active and involved as I can, and give back at every opportunity. Im currently saving for my next rating, Single Engine Sea Plane, which I anticipate to start as soon as funds are saved, and what I would use this PilotSafety.org scholarship to achieve. I am also hoping to take an aerobic course in a Great Lakes that is offered by my local FBO as my next goal following. I now have 175 hours, and no plans on stopping.
Thank you, Alexander Peña