Number 5 on my bucket list used to read, “Fly an airplane.” Not a commercial airplane, full of crying babies and sneezing travelers, but a small plane. One that romantically fits two. One that inches over mountain tops, revealing sparkling lakes and lush forests. That kind of plane. Joe Eco-Hawk, a professional flight instructor at TNG Aviation flies just those types of planes. He shared a little of his world and the exciting perks of his job. Shortly after the interview, “Fly an airplane” moved up four spots to number one on the bucket list.
E+E: So tell us, what made you decide to start flying airplanes?Joe Echo-Hawk: When I was a kid, I'd see a plane overhead and think, "Why couldn't that be me?" It then kind of turned into this thing I was obsessed with. I remember rummaging around in my parents’ garage, trying to figure out if I could build a plane with leftover wood scraps and a weedeater engine. Eventually, I came to terms with having to wait until I was older.E+E: What do you enjoy most about it?J E-H: The challenge. Every landing is a little different. Every flight, even though it might be a route you've flown before, is a little different. Maybe it’s the weather one day, or a different plane that you're in that day, or the passengers’ excitement the next day, but either way, there is always something new to learn. The freedom and scenery are also great perks, but I fly because the challenge keeps my attention.E+E: How often do you fly?J E-H: Usually 4-5 days a week. Maybe in the ballpark of about 20-25 flight hours a week.E+E:What are most of your students like?J E-H: All over the board. Men, women, mostly 18-50 years old. I've worked with doctors, dentists, web designers, chefs, highschoolers, military personnel, police officers, baristas, insurance agents, waiters and bartenders, farmers, and electricians, to name a few. The common denominators for them all is that they've "wanted to fly for a long time now." Most people don't just wake up one day and think, "Oh, flying might be a good idea." It's something that people have to do or they'd always regret it. Learning to fly isn't particularly difficult, but it IS a commitment. It won't just happen in a few weeks. There's a lot of reading, learning, and money invested in learning to fly, so the people who do the best are those who have follow-through.E+E: Have you had any particularly exciting incidents while instructing (or flying yourself)?J E-H: Lots of them! But not the dangerous ones you would be expecting... although there was this one time when I ended up over the Rockies at night in weather that was worse than forecast when I was flying a little Cessna across the US. All the excitement on that one was due to my inexperience at the time in knowing about the weather and being able to make good judgement calls.The most exciting times I like to think of are those times when I solo people for the first time. Or when I've flown out to the beach with friends and camped for the weekend. Or when I flew my dad around Puerto Rico, or took my mom to the coast. One time I helped re-assemble a floatplane in Papua New Guinea after it had been shipped there... and then we flew it into the jungle. It is still out there today flying into areas where people have no hospitals. It saves lives because it could take them a week to reach a hospital, or a one-hour flight. These are the kind of things that get me excited about flying.E+E: That sounds incredibly exciting! What plans do you have for the future?J E-H: I'm taking a little time off from instructing right now to finish up some things with my fishing business since I just got back from Alaska. But, I'm happy to refer people to some great instructors if anyone comes my way from your write-up.Photo Courtesy of: TNG Aviation