Pilot’s Digest: Ok, we have to ask, what inspired you to learn to fly at 80 years-old?
Evan Spelfogel: Ever since I was 6 or 7 years old during WWII, I dreamt of flying P-40 War Hawks with the Flying Tigers in China or Hellcats over the Pacific islands. In my late 40’s and early 50’s I took up a hobby of collecting miniature diecast warbirds and other model aircraft. Now have hundreds on display in my home and office and hundreds more in storage. I have been recognized as on of the world’s most significant collectors of dinky aircraft and have been written up and my collection photographed in several major anthologies.
I am a labor negotiator and have represented a number of airlines and negotiated their pilots and other union contracts. In that capacity I became a member of the wings club, regularly lunch with and have spent many wonderful moments with persons in the airline industry.
When my wife passed away about 5 years ago, I had three choices: learn a foreign language, take piano lessons or learn to fly. Which would you have selected?
PD: How long have you wanted to be a pilot, and why?
ES: My whole life. See above.
PD: Describe your first solo flight. How many times have you soloed since?
ES: I ground prepped for the first solo with my instructor. We decided on pattern flying around the Morristown Municipal Airport in New Jersey (an American Flyers base). After a thirty-minute flight with my instructor, we landed, went into the office, filled out some paperwork. I checked ATIS and decided on my preferred runway for takeoff. I went back out to the aircraft (a Cessna 172), did a very thorough preflight inside and outside the aircraft, opened the side window, yelled “clear prop” started up the aircraft and began taxiing from the tie down area out towards the taxiways. I radioed ground control that I was a student pilot and received instructions for taxiing to the designated runway. I followed ground control instructions to the run-up area, did a complete and thorough run-up “by the book’’ and let ground know when I was finished. Ground passed me on to the tower, which then cleared me for takeoff and a left pattern. As per the tower’s earlier instructions, I radioed the tower when I was at left downwind midfield and was cleared for my base and final turns, lined up the runway and made what I consider one of my best stabilized approaches and landings ever! I repeated the process a second time after which, following tower and ground instructions, I taxied back to the tie down area, did a final ground check and tie down, and returned to the office where I proceeded to ring the bell! Since my first solo, I have been flying local cross-country flights to nearby New Jersey and New York airports, with a mostly silent instructor, prepping for the next phase of my solo’s.
“When my wife passed away about 5 years ago, I had three choices: learn a foreign language, take piano lessons or learn to fly.”
PD: What are your aviation goals for the future?
ES: To complete local and cross-country solo’s, pass the written exam and take my check ride with an FAA inspector, and obtain my Private Pilot’s license. Thereafter, I look forward to
regular flying for businessa and pleasure for at least the next twenty years.
PD: If you could fly anywhere in the world, where would you go and in what aircraft?
ES: Very interesting question! I think I would like to first explore the good old USA and then see the world. What aircraft? I actually prefer the Piper Cherokee to the Cessna… either
would be fine, but I suppose for long range flying I would probably choose a multi-engine aircraft.
PD: What is your favorite aviation movie?
ES: The old WWII John Wayne in “Flying Tigers” and “Wake Island” movies, the newer “Pearl Harbor” movie, “Red Tails,” and “The Red Baron” among others.
PD: You are a full-time practicing attorney concentrating in labor relations and employment law, a mediator and arbitrator, and also an adjunct professor at the Columbia Law School in New York. How do you make time for flight training?
ES: That has been a real problem and why it has taken me over two years to progress to solo flight. I have been flying regularly weekends, weather permitting, and occasionally play hooky from work if I have no court or client appointments on a particular day.
PD: What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?
ES: Take flying lessons instead of playing golf or tennis!
PD: How did you go about choosing the right flight school for you? What made you choose American flyers for your flight training?
ES: I actually began flight training with a solo instructor out of Republic Airport on Long Island, flying a Piper Cherokee. He was also a Commercial Pilot for American Airlines and many times had to cancel my lessons at the last minute due to his on call and back up pilot duties. Even though he was an excellent instructor, after about a year I decided I needed a more formalized training regimen, went online, did my due diligence and decided on one of the most highly regarded and national training enterprises, American Flyers. Its staff has been wonderfully supportive and expert in its approach and follow up.
PD: What is your favorite flight training memory or favorite memory in flight?
ES: On one of my first instructor guided cross country flights, from Morristown up to the Sullivan county airport about 60 miles north, I ground plotted my route, selected a number of waypoints to check off on the sectional, calculated the weather and the fuel needed, filed a flight plan and set off without having given sufficient thought to a changing east wind. Naturally, I ended up many miles west of my destination. My instructor said that if I kept flying ahead, I would soon be in Canada. And for the next 15 minutes I searched for the airport while my instructor sat quietly observing. “Oh! There’s the airport up on that hill to the right,” I blurted out… and then everything was fine.
PD: What advice would you give someone interested in becoming a pilot?
ES: Find a top instructional school like American Flyers, be prepared to devote the time, work hard, study, learn from early mistakes and stick with it. The rewards are well worth it!