Passion has no limitation

NAFI NOTAMs #3

Passion has no limitation~Guest Blogger Tom Huitema

Time passes quickly, and I suppose it’s those moments in time, the anchors, whether they be vacations, events, or moving parts of our past, that compete for the prime storage space of our long term memory.

From my first flight in a Cessna 150 to some 22,000+ hours later, there are stitches in time that bring a smile or a grimace when I reach back for them. Because of my love for flying, I decided long ago that I would do all I could to remember as many steps of that path as possible.

At 19 years of age, I earned my CFI and could legally begin teaching the things I had learned. My first instructing job in 1983 was at the now long-defunct Metro Air, Inc. at the Allegheny County Airport in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa.

I stared out of the flight school’s north windows for many weeks - sitting, waiting, and hoping my first student would walk through the door. Fellow instructors defined this time as “putting in your dues” until the next bigger, better thing presented itself. I never wanted to see flight instructing as this, nor did I want to look back at it that way.Teaching and sharing what we’re passionate about is the first step in passing the torch, and we as instructors determine the brightness the light emits.

As I looked out of the over-sized terminal windows and watched the array of corporate jets flying in and out, I’d often take note of a gentleman outside in a wheelchair sharing my view as he sat along the fence just ahead of the flight line. I could tell he loved watching the airplanes, so I decided to walk out and greet him.

His name was Ross Wilson, and he was, by every definition, a kindred spirit. Years earlier, Ross was accepted to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and was taking his first steps toward a career in aviation when the uncertainty of life blocked his path. He’d packed his belongings a week before classes and flight training began and headed out on his motorcycle. While on the road, two cars ahead of him collided. As he hit the wreckage, he was ejected from his cycle and laterally impacted a tree, causing a spinal injury that would leave him a paraplegic for the rest of his life.

Ross’s story hit me deeply not just because it spoke of the uncertainty of life but how a split second can turn life in an entirely new direction. And in this case, it wasn’t the direction of his choice.

Ross was one of the coolest people I’d ever met, and we quickly became close friends. After some research, we were able to find a specially designed hand control that fit the Cessna 172. We began flying, and his ability to learn and adapt was unparalleled. I’ll never forget the tears in his eyes the day he soloed. He soon earned a Private Pilot’s license and then continued to a Commercial Pilot’s License with Instrument Rating.

But he wasn’t the only one. We’d spawned the roots of the Pennsylvania Wheelchair Pilots Association. The Pittsburgh Press picked up the story, and when others read or heard about the program it began to grow rapidly. People with paraplegia, amputees, and a host of other disabled pilots joined the ranks. I taught more pilots with disabilities than fully ambulatory students. It was truly some of the most fulfilling flying I’ve done in my 43 years in aviation.

All these years later, Ross and I still enjoy our friendship, recount our antics, and share our love of airplanes. As it turned out, it wasn’t who walked through the door, but rather who rolled by it.

Tom Huitema CFII/ATP

NAFI #221428

(Featured Photo Courtesy of Mr. Huitema featuring Ross Wilson)

 

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