By Tye Ridolfi
My passion for flying started when I was around four years old when I saw “Top Gun.” Something about the movie got me hooked, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. As I grew up, I worked toward that goal, got my college degree, and in 2012, I got my private pilot license (PPL). I then applied to the Air Force, got accepted and herniated a disk in my back, ending the dream before it even started. I was devastated and did not know what I was going to do. There was no way I could afford training all the way through to the commercial pilot certificate. Then I found American Flyers.
While recovering from my back surgery, I scoured the internet trying to find options for financial aid for flight school. The only options out there seemed to be loans. If I had to, I would, but it was not appealing to have a $60,000+ loan above my head for years to come. I stumbled across the American Flyers website because I had heard about the flight school for many years. To my amazement, I came across a section for internship programs. One of the programs was for A&Ps and the other was for an Administrative Intern. The Admin Intern program is a year-long paid program where you work the office, and they provide enough scholarship to pay for your Instrument and Commercial training during that year. The requirements are a college degree and PPL. Could I really be this lucky? I immediately went to the “Contact Us” section and began writing about my strong interest in the program and included my latest resume. It sounded too perfect for my situation, and I didn’t expect to hear anything back. If I did, I expected the program to be full and to be put on a waiting list.
A couple days later I received an email from Andrew Henley, the Regional Direct that was also at the PMP location. He told me he would like to setup an interview and discuss the program. I was shocked and excited! I prepared myself for the interview as best I could. I wanted to make the best impression because this was my second shot at pursuing my dream.I arrived at American Flyers PMP, and it was very impressive. They have the whole southwest corner of the airport to themselves and have a huge hangar for the school with all the planes lined up right outside. I met with Andrew, and we discussed the program and what I was looking for. He stressed that the program is very intense and you have to love flying in order to be successful. I told him flying was all I wanted to do, so I knew I could get through anything. We concluded the interview, and he said he would be in contact.
For a few days I stressed that maybe I didn’t do well enough, or maybe a better candidate applied too. To my excitement, I was contacted and told I was selected for the program and would be starting within the month! My flying career just got the kickstart it needed.
Day one of the program was exciting and full of information. All day planes were starting up and taxiing in and out, students and instructors were meeting up to begin lessons, phones were ringing, I met new people and shadowed the intern I was replacing. There was a lot to take in because there was a lot expected of the position. As the intern, I was not the receptionist that just answered phone calls and created a schedule. I was running the school. The phone rang with future students, current students, examiners, mechanics and executives. I had to run the schedule of the day, while writing the schedule for tomorrow. If the weather turned bad halfway through the day, I must drive that schedule to figure out how to still be productive. What some saw as a cloudy day that just ruined the flights for the private students, I saw as the perfect opportunity to get instrument students paired up with their instructors to experience some actual IFR flying. If a mechanic called saying a plane wouldn’t be out of its 100 hour inspection at the time expected, I didn’t panic. I’d see if the student needed another simulator or ground lesson. There were no problems, just opportunities. Our only limited resource at the school was time, so the job was how to best use that time to accomplish learning.
From 7 a.m. to 6, 7 or even 8 p.m. it was nonstop work. Answering phones, driving, writing and confirming schedules, monitoring student programs, calling examiners for check rides, and dealing with the ever-changing environment of aviation. It was a lot of work. I did this six days a week while also fitting in my studying and my own training. It was the toughest year of my life. But it was worth every second of it. What other job offers the opportunity to be surrounded by aviation, while being paid enough to cover your bills and also paying for flight training? No other job allows you to be a student pilot while also surrounding you with new friends that are all CFIs, or to be on a first name basis with examiners who would eventually do your check rides. The advantage the internship gave me was amazing. I learned more about training requirements and endorsements than any new CFI could, and I still only had my PPL. If I had a question about something I read while studying the night before, I could ask any of the dozens of CFIs at work, and I could get an answer. You can’t get those perks working as a ramp guy at an FBO or waiting tables.
The first time the fruit of all my labor really set in was the morning of my Instrument check ride. The last five months had been a lot of work both at my job and in studying and training, but I was about to become an instrument rated pilot. I walked in the school that day as a student and all my friends were there to wish me luck. At that moment, I remembered I had been willing to take out a huge loan just to get to this point, and instead all I had to do was put forth the effort to work hard as an intern and a student. Fast forward seven more months and the whole thing was repeated, but this time I was about to become a commercial pilot. This is where it all began.
After I completed my internship, I knew I needed to get my CFI to be most marketable as a pilot. American Flyers does offer extensions for hard working interns that can provide scholarship toward CFI and Multi. I wanted to start flying ASAP, so I elected to pay for the CFI myself and joined the class that started right after my internship ended. Normally the CFI is one of the hardest certificates because the classwork is so demanding. But for one year I had been no stranger to hard work and long days, so the class went surprisingly well. After the class, I was offered a job teaching at American Flyers, and I took that offer. I was finally being paid to fly airplanes.
After teaching for four months, I came across a job doing aerial survey. A friend referred me and I was eventually offered a job at Air America. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have the keys to my own 172 with a company credit card and to fly literally across the country. For four months, I flew 500 hours from KS, IA, OH, FL, AZ, UT, and finally back to FL. It was a crash course in flying outside the training environment, and it was amazing. I came back home for one month and saved enough money to pay for my Multi Engine rating. I called up American Flyers and started training. Once I completed the license, I went back to Air America and this time they put me in a Piper Aztec. I was amazed I was going to start building some serious multi time. I took my first Aztec out to Los Angeles and worked a few months out there. Then I was airlined home to fly another Aztec out to Seattle, WA. Twice I got to fly a multi engine plane across the country solo. It was an amazing experience. Fast forward three months and I gained 220 hours of twin time and had gone up and down the west coast, ending back in Los Angeles to help complete the project I first started.
It was now one year since I was an intern and attending the CFI Academy and I was sitting just over 1,000 hours and 220 Multi. I figured it was a long shot, but I decided now was the time to start applying for the job I was hoping for while interning. While training, my primary instructor started working at Reva doing medevac flights in a Learjet. It sounded so exciting flying such a fun jet to cool international destinations like Jamaica and Barbados, but I also never thought I’d get enough multi time so fast. By this time, I had several friends now working at Reva, and they told me it was a great time to apply, so I updated my resume and had a friend submit it for referral. A couple weeks later, I was contacted for a phone interview, then a Skype interview and finally offered an offer letter for employment. I would have never imagined that a year after being an intern with just over 200 hours that I’d be flying a jet.
It was midnight, and I had just put my head down on my pillow to go to bed after being up all day. The phone rang: “We have a confirmed flight for you to pick up in St Thomas and bring them back to Ft Lauderdale.” Now I had one hour to get ready and get to the airport, and then I had one hour to get the plane ready for wheels up. At 3 a.m., we were over Grand Turks on our way to St Thomas to pick up our patient that needed to get back to the states for better treatment. I am back at a hard job, but it is fun and extremely rewarding work. Outside of the on-call schedule, it’s a really great job and one of the few flying jobs that gets me home almost every day. When I started Reva, upgrade times were at least two years, which sounded awesome at the time. As my first year approached, I was already being sent for upgrade training with the preface that I would upgrade within the year. The news was even more exciting when four months after that I got upgraded to Captain. Two years and eight months from completing my internship as a commercial pilot with 200 hours, I was an international jet captain with an ATP and 1900 hours. I could have never dreamed of everything happening so quick, and it’s all thanks to American Flyers and the Administrative Internship that provided me the opportunity to pursue my dreams.