Some events in your life can leave lasting impressions, impressions that influence decisions that will change your life. One such event happened at a rodeo sideshow for Thomas John whom at the time was no older than 17.
“The announcer says there’s a big surprise everyone look up, and it was nighttime so you couldn’t see it but you could hear this roar coming in and immediately we knew it was a helicopter. I got excited because I had never seen one up close and personal like that. He came screaming over the stadium at probably full speed, right over the top of the stadium and was just thundering loud, everybody was excited. Seeing the lights arcing up in the air and circling around and coming back down into the spot and dust blowing everywhere there was nothing else that had ever made me that excited, I was thrilled,” said John.
The Army Apache ignited a spark inside Thomas that night. It was a spark that would only grow into a desire to take on one of the nation’s most exciting careers. The training for the helicopter pilot program was expensive but John began his search to fund the training.
“I had always been fascinated with the military so I decided that I would join so that I can use the G.I. bill benefits to pay for my school. Literally a couple weeks before I was supposed to sign up, my mother being a veteran of the military found out she could pass on her unused Gi Bill® to her children.” John immediately sought out a reputable school that would accept the Gi Bill® and found Upper Limit Aviation that was only four hours away.
“I drove to Upper Limit, checked out the facility and talked to them and it was just amazing. I was excited; the welcoming by Upper Limit let me know this is where I needed to be. By October 2010 I was enrolled and ready to go, January 10th, on my birthday was my first flight and first day at the school, it was an awesome day and I was thrilled.”
The atmosphere at Upper Limit was extremely inviting for John, it only re-assured him of his desire to be a part of the aviation industry. The idea of flying a helicopter was powerful for John but it did not come close to the first time he sat inside the cockpit suspended over the horizon in a quarter of a million dollar machine.
“When the only seats you’ve ever sat in has never left ground and all of a sudden you’re just hovering in the air a few feet off the ground it is just exhilarating,” he says. “Right away once we were flying in the air the instructor gave me a brief on the controls and let me try them out. I took the pedals and I wagged the tail then he gave me the collective and let me raise and lower the helicopter and then he gave me the cyclic,” says John. ” Within a few hours you’re easily able to fly straight level, to make turns and all of that stuff.”
One aspect he liked was how nice and helpful all of the instructors were.
“I got to know all of the instructors and they were all great guys and all a lot of fun, if you had a question you could walk up to any instructor and they were more than happy to talk to you. You do have a primary but there’s no set rule that’s what’s great about Upper Limit Aviation if you have a question or your instructor is out of town you still have the chance to go do any of your flights or any of the ground that you need to do, you have plenty of other instructors to go to for that.”
Learning to fly a helicopter was challenging for Tom John but nothing he was not ready to face head on. The support of his instructor made him feel safe enough to step outside of his comfort zone.
“Coming to our airport where we trained and having my first opportunity hovering was the most difficult but exciting thing that I’ve ever done and I know I could do it because the first day doing it you could see a little bit of progress. It was very cool to have the instructor there who was like a wizard, I would lose complete control of the aircraft and in a blink of an eye he would have it right back over the spot and say all right man, try it again.”
It did not take John long to make his way through the entire program. In the matter of a year and a half he had his Private, Commercial, Instrument, and Instructor certifications. Before he knew it he was teaching students from the same seat that just a year prior his instructor was teaching him. “I try my best to be as high-quality as I can, I feel that I’m appreciated and I do all I can to teach my students what they need to know to make it through the program. I have sent more than 10 students for their check-ride (exam) and they have all passed.”
John tries to be encouraging and inviting when asked about what he does for his career. He takes every opportunity to share information with people who might like to get in the aviation industry.
“I’ve always felt like I didn’t want to be the guy who is like I’m just a pilot because that’s just not the greatest way of starting a conversation. When somebody does asks you what you do and you say I’m helicopter flight instructor it is an eyebrow raiser, they’re very interested and excited,” says John. “The big thing is my family, there thrilled, they couldn’t be happier. They see the pictures they have seen me fly and it’s amazing to feel that I’m making them proud and I’m going to continue to try to do that.”
22 Year Old Finding Helicopter Tour Pilot Jobs
After talking with people he has even had people come by to take him up on the intro flight that the school offers after talking to him about what it’s like to be a helicopter pilot.
“I’ve had a few people come out and take the intro flight just after talking to them randomly in a store. I got to take them up on a flight and immediately they loved it, after flying for a few moments they are actually able to take the controls and see what it’s like to fly for themselves.”
Upper Limit has given John a chance to build enough hours to move on to his next step in the Helicopter Community. At only 22-years-old he will be a 135-tour pilot for the Tier One tour company Maverick Helicopters. After his daily pilot meeting he will step into his office ‘flying over the Grand Canyon’ where he will provide a unique view, with people from around the world.
“The accomplishment of knowing you have what it takes to be a rated pilot, nothing beats that. It’s hard work, everyone thinks it’s just flying but there is a lot of studying to it but if you want to do it and you’re committed it is a great opportunity and Upper Limit is the way to go.”
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