An Unforgettable Flight to Mexico

American Flyers Bonanza

My Introduction to Corporate Flying

By Mike Forth

Dateline 1974… I was the company pilot for a wholesale lumber company. It was a partnership between two super salesmen: one wanting nothing to do with the airplane, the other wanting me to teach him to fly. Different as they were, they were the best when it came to moving lumber.

This was a “business” trip that included a couple of customers and the owner of a trucking company, who owned and flew his own Cessna 182 (a single engine four place aircraft that cruises around 140 mph). We were flying the company’s Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (a six placed, single engine, retractable gear aircraft capable of 200 mpg).

This was my first big trip, having been with the company for two weeks. The trip started off bad and got worse. I had to pick up one of the passengers in Eureka, Calif., turn around and go back to Stockton, Calif., where we met and boarded my employer along with another client.

Once all were on board we departed for Calexico at the U.S. border with Mexico. I flew the entire length of California and then almost half again.

The winds made the trip from Stockton to Calexico just over 4.5 hours, plus the four hours flying to and from Eureka. To say the least, I was whipped, and I felt the beginnings of the flu creeping up on me. We arrived safely in Calexico around 10:30 p.m. with maybe 30 minutes of useable fuel left in the tanks and hooked up with the trucker and his passengers.

After a night’s sleep, it was time for an early departure across the border to Mexicali no more than three miles away. Lying parallel to one another, it was just a hop: take off, two right turns, and you were downwind for a landing in Mexicali to clear customs.

This was my first trip as pilot-in-command (and no co-pilot) to Mexico. I was so paranoid that when we landed in Mexicali, I not only took all the luggage out of the plane, lining it up for inspection, but I also took the seats out. I was taking no chances. I made my way into the office to hand over the paperwork, get inspected and get out of town as soon as possible.

Sitting at the desk was the largest Mexican man I’d ever seen, dressed in the gray uniform of the Federal Police. I handed him my paperwork as he motioned me to a chair across his desk. He put the papers down on his desk and casually allowed his eyes to roam around the fine cacti art on the walls. We sat for what felt like an eternity until I noticed a pearl-handled pistol lying on the desk with a $20 bill pinned down by its weight.

Oh…he wanted money! So I put a $10 bill under the gun’s handle and watched his eyebrows rise ever so slightly. But he made no move toward the paperwork. I slid another 10 spot under the gun, but still no interest. When I pulled an additional $5 bill out, the paperwork was done before the fiver hit the table. He didn’t look at me, the paper or the plane. He just signed everything and motioned towards the door…Welcome to Mexico.

 Once the airplane was re-stuffed, we departed. One of the customers sat up front next to me. As we hit the gulf, I descended to about 100 feet off the water and asked if he’d like to take the controls. He said, “sure” and after some cursory instructions, he was doing pretty well…That is… until he fell asleep! No one told me the guy suffered from narcolepsy. I thought he died! Not knowing if I should land, my boss leaned forward and said, “Don’t worry about him; he’ll wake up in a minute or two.” I flew the rest of the trip.

We landed in Mulege, a small coastal fishing village with a bar cantina designed for a Mexican movie set. The village has since grown into a city and the airport has been moved and improved. I arrived and landed first.

The airport was right on the water; its surface was sand and hard packed dirt, rough with pits and potholes. It ran uphill about 3,500 feet to a 20-foot berm at the other end. If you couldn’t stop, no worries the berm would help out!

Prevailing winds were suggesting I should land downhill towards the water, but I decided it was better to land going uphill even with a tail wind, rather than cross that berm going downhill (you always stop faster going uphill than down). I landed with no problem, and as my passengers headed in for lunch I remained in the airplane, awaiting the Cessna.

About 10 minutes later the Cessna called me on the radio asking about the landing. I explained the winds, my logic and my recommendation, suggesting he use his own judgement. He decided to land into the wind downhill over the berm (and possibly into the water). He slowed the airplane down so slow that when he cleared the berm the sudden and slight wind shift stalled the airplane and it dropped out of the sky from about 30 feet in the air. He hit on the main gear so hard that it knocked the nose wheel off the airplane as it was being propelled skyward again. Hitting the ground once more caused a prop strike. The airplane came to a stop in a cloud of dust and everyone scrambled out, a bit shaken but thankfully unhurt.

When you have an accident in Mexico, it is no simple matter. The airplane wasn’t going anywhere soon. I have to give the owner credit. He didn’t want to mess up the trip for everyone else, so the decision was made that I would fly my passengers to the resort, return and pick up his, so they could enjoy their fishing trip, while he stayed with the airplane.

VFR (visual flight rules) flying in Mexico after dark, in a single engine airplane, was not allowed at that time, so I had to get moving. The resort was about 100 miles south. So I explained to everyone staying behind to keep out of the bar and be ready when I returned; we needed to get back to the resort before sundown. I made the final landing at the resort just about dusk, one more pass and I don’t think I would have made it in. Most of the runways at that time were dirt, unlit and rough, so you had to be extra careful on every approach and touchdown.

By the time I got everyone settled at the resort, I had put in another long day. Thank goodness for that early departure out of Calexico.

Still battling illness the next day, I tried to beg off the fishing trip to spend the day in bed, but the boys were having none of it. Our adventure continued when the engine of our boat quit as we began to head home, leaving us adrift in the middle of the Sea of Cortez! Adding to the excitement, a whale bigger than the boat passed no more than 10 feet along our port side. If he had struck the boat, it would have sunk us for sure. Fortunately, after drifting for about two hours, with evening fast approaching, another boat suddenly appeared and towed us to shore.

 When it was time to fly home, we had too many passengers. I would have had to fly back and forth if it were not for the kindness of a couple who offered to drop two of our guys in San Diego where they could catch a commercial flight home.

Aside from stopping in Mulege to check on our wayward trucker and a quick stop in Loreto for fuel, we headed back, but not before one more pratfall.

Air Traffic Control in Mexico then was almost non-existent. You were required to file a “round robin” flight plan, with your intended destination including your planned return, estimated departure date, time and course. Having done all that, we were on our way home.

Monitoring an open frequency on the radio, I heard my tail number being asked for a response. So I called back, and they (whoever it was) told me my flight plan was invalid and I must land in Bahia de Los Angeles to clear it up. A look at the chart revealed there was nothing for miles around Bahia de Los Angeles, so I decided to keep going and let the radio operator on the ground know we would clear it at the border. Interestingly,, I never heard another word from ATC or customs. Makes one wonder…doesn’t it?

American Flyers Bonanza 1I learned a lot from that first trip, and didn’t desire to go back. Of course, I did fly back several times, but fortunately in much bigger, faster airplanes.

The Cessna was recovered about two months later after it was disassembled and trucked to Northern California. I guess it pays to own a trucking company.


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Interview with Jared Reading

Jared Reading

By Pilot’s Digest

Pilot’s Digest: Tell us a little about yourself? (Background info – who are you, what do you do)

Jared Reading: Married 21 years, father of 4.  Diagnostics and Interventional Radiologist in the town of Uvalde, Texas.  My wife and I also own and operate Shotgun CrossFit.

PD: Tell us how you went about choosing a flight school?

JR: I started out wanting to be a glider pilot since I live in Uvalde, TX, home to the some of the best thermals in the world.  There is no glider club here, so I would drive 2 hours one way to learn how to be a glider pilot and I accumulated 13 hours in a Pipistrel Sinus Flex. I started to become frustrated with the drive and the limited availability of my instructor.  He suggested I get my Private Pilot Certificate.

Uvalde has a local flight school. I came to the school having already passed the private written on my own and I wanted to fly.  My schedule is such that when I have time off I want to dedicate all of that time to flying and they could not accommodate my strong desire to be in the air. What I wanted to accomplish in a few weeks turned in to a few months.

I had a goal to be finished with my Private by January 1st.  So I started calling around to cities with flight school were the weather was projected to be VFR.  American Flyers in Santa Monica advertised a few things that appealed to me.  First, the weather was going to be VFR.  Second, AF states they specialize in helping students finish up with their Private Certificate. When I called, the school was attentive, listened to my story and promised to get me in the air as much as I could physically and mentally accommodate.  I was sold and flew out immediately.

PD: What was different about American Flyers/What made you choose American Flyers?

JR: What I wasn’t expecting was how ill prepared I had been for flying in busy airspace.  After that first day I was worried I was not going to finish by Jan. 1st.  The communications were overwhelming for me.  In little Uvalde, you rarely hear another plane.  And 3 take offs and landings at a slow towered airport does not prepare an individual to fly Southern California. I could fly a plane.  Slips, soft-fields, short fields, and the maneuvers I was prepared for. The communications, however, frustrated me.  I felt like I was learning a new language.  This is where Leo (my CFI at AF) became my hero.  He assured me that after a few more days flying with him, I would be ok, and he was right.  He directed me towards resources to learn the communications faster while I was on the ground and he was patient and an excellent teacher while in the air.  After my third day my communications, although not mastered, were such that I could get around in southern California.  I can’t say enough about my flight instructor there.  Truly patient and understanding.  He had come to the USA knowing limited English and he understood and could empathize with my frustrations (image learning the communication and not knowing English that well when you started).  His encouragement was very valuable to me.

PD: How much outside studying did you have to put in during your time with AF?

JR: About 5 hours while with them.  I had done most of my studying before I got there.

PD: Looking back, what advice would you give someone interested in starting pilot training?

JR: I have a few recommendation for someone wanting to become a pilot.  First, pick a flight school who understands what your goals are and will accommodate them.  It is your money, and you are spending a lot of it.  You have choices, take control of your education as a pilot and find the school that understands what you want and will help you make a plan to achieve it according to your schedule.  American Flyers did those things for me.

“I can’t say enough about my flight instructor there.  Truly patient and understanding.”


PD: What’s next for you?

JR: I am just shy of 100 hours flight time and will start IFR practical training on January 16th in a 1964 Cessna 172 that I recently acquired for that purpose.   I am loving this journey.  My wife has commented several times that she hasn’t seen me this happy in a long time.  I plan on gliding as well.  I’ll use my certificates as tools for travel, and for recreation.

PD: What’s in your flight bag?

JR: iPad, Stratus, knee board, sectionals, flashlight, batteries, water, protein bars, sunglasses, pens and pencils.

PD: Favorite airplane:

JR: Cessna 172, I have flown 5 different ones now.  I think every pilot will always be fond of their training plane.  I will move on eventually, but for now this gentle plane has been fantastic.  I think my ultimate plane with be a Cessna T210.  But right now, I want to fly them all.  Gliders, bi-planes, etc…

PD: Favorite Aviation Movie:

JR: Top Gun.  I was 13 when that movie came out.  Not sure if I appreciated Kelly McGilis or the flying more 😉

PD: If you could fly anywhere, go to any flying destination, where would it be?

JR: I want to learn how to fly across borders.  I will make it up to Canada and down to Mexico eventually.  Who knows, maybe by the end of 2017?



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Doc Elliott, A Cornerstone of American Flyers

Doc Elliott

By the American Flyers Family

In the fall of 1969, American Flyers was forever changed for the better, for it was on this day that Harlan “Doc” Elliott joined our team. Since what may feel like the dawn of American Flyers’ time, Doc has been as much a part of American Flyers as the Cessna 172 and the 6 Ts. A veteran of the 173rd Airborne Division, Doc started as an instructor at Midway Airport and has held about every position available. He has shaped our school in more ways than we can remember. You will not find a better IFR or multi-engine instructor anywhere in the world, nor a more dedicated individual and friend.

Doc has lent his expertise not only as a CFI, but as a local and national chief pilot for our 141 accreditation. Being the direct liaison to the local and national FAA office was an added responsibility while he continued his mentorship to our students and leadership of our staff. It is uncommon to find someone with such an expert-level understanding of the regulations, who can still think with such clarity and common sense about student need; Doc does both succinctly.

Doc Elliott has grown several schools, serving as a manager for every location American Flyers has managed. Overseeing scheduling, student program management, maintenance, recruiting and training of both students and staff, Doc could do it all.

“He never, never says no to a challenge, and with a smile everything is possible.”

In the early 1980s, Doc managed the airline career program, originally housed in an old military base in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Purportedly, Doc was known for riding his motorcycle through the dorm hallways to wake up students who had slept in for their lessons!

The vastness of his knowledge, with the simplicity of its presentation, could not be more evident than in the American Flyers training manuals, as they were originally – and are still – written by none other than Doc Elliott. When the world of aviation training devices was changing and computer-based simulation was dawning, it was Doc who designed and built the simulators that would become such a backbone of our training courses. Even today, the bulk of the simulator fleet has been engineered and is still maintained by Doc Elliott.

Doc has been a constant on our National Safety Board, fervently reviewing policies, regulations, CFI practices and statistics so he can recommend ongoing improvements to our curricula, ensuring that American Flyers students receive the best education in the industry.

Doc has knowledge, drive, motivation, flying skills to spare, coaching qualities, tech savvy, and more CFI know-how than anyone can boast in a lifetime of aviation teaching, but it’s the heart that Doc Elliott brings to the American Flyers table that has made him an invaluable resource, a sought-after counselor, and a true cornerstone of excellence and greatness. Quite simply, we would not be American Flyers without him.

Distilling the essence of Doc Elliott into a few sentences is of course, an impossible task however here is what almost a half a century of working with Doc is like:

  • “He is a pure teacher. He can take the most complex subject material and help one understand it without much trouble and having fun at the same time. He understands how to help young pilots become old pilots.” – Clark McCormack
  • ”Doc cares about what we do and has a passion for doing it the right way. For that reason and many others I highly respect Doc and am proud to call him my friend.” – Mike Bliss
  • ”One of the greatest things about Doc is, no matter the conversation, he ends every single phone call with, ‘Is there anything I can do for you, and he means it’”. – Andrew Henley
  • ”Doc Elliott is a humble, principled and dedicated man, I’m glad to call a hero and a friend.” – Kat Batista

For 48 years, he has made our company-family entertaining, educational and down-right fun. He has made us who we are today. Doc’s contributions to American Flyers are immeasurable. It would actually be easier to run our schools without airplanes, than it would be to run them without the sage wisdom and experience, the guiding voice, and the ever full heart of Harlan “Doc” Elliott.

Thank you, Doc, for your exemplary lifetime of service to our proud company!

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Why Should I Get a Commercial Pilot Certificate?

Commercial Pilot

By Tim Genc

The other day, I was proudly congratulating a student on the completion of his Instrument Rating. “Let’s talk about the commercial,” I said.

The student quickly replied that he was not interested in a career in aviation, and that for him flying was just for recreational purposes. “I don’t need a commercial,” he retorted.

We started talking about his flying plans. Now that he was an IFR pilot, his plan was to fly more frequently, as weather was less of a limiting factor. He would fly more cross-countries and build his flight time. Once he was more comfortable with his skills, he was planning on buying another aircraft – faster, larger, more cargo space – so he could fly his family around. With the shackles of VFR weather loosened, he would be more experienced and become a more capable and competent pilot.

I smiled at him and told him, “There is actually a name for the process you just described: it’s called becoming a Commercial Pilot!”

Maybe you are just like this pilot, telling yourself that you do not need to get your commercial because you are not planning to undertake a career in aviation. However, so many recreational flyers find that earning their commercial wings is the next step in their pilot progression. So, let’s look at some of the reasons why you should get your Commercial Pilot Certificate.

You are going to fly the time anyways

Pilots like to fly – it’s what makes us pilots! And the more you fly, the better you get. You will transition into different aircraft. They will get bigger and more complex; they will go faster. This is Commercial Pilot training! It involved high performance maneuvers that demonstrate a mastery of the aircraft, longer cross-country flights than you have flown in training before, more solo time, forcing you to manage your time and resources more effectively, and finally the introduction of bigger planes that go faster and have a few more features, like a constant-speed prop and retractable gear. This is a natural progression. It is pilot evolution, aviation inevitability. It is what you are going to do anyway, so you might as well have the credentials to go with it.

Lower insurance premiums.

Just yesterday, a gentleman called and told me he needed to add his commercial certificate before July, as that’s when his insurance premium was due, and he wanted to get the break for being a Commercial Pilot. Insurance companies will see you as less of a liability because you have an advanced certification and are more experienced. If you are flying the time anyways, the annual insurance savings will certainly offset the cost of the flight test and dual instruction, all of which make you a better pilot.

A good pilot is always learning.

What better way to test and hone your skills than going back to school? You may fly a lot of cross-country and do a lot of instrument approaches, but when was the last time you practiced maneuvers to tighten up your traffic pattern operations? How about emergency procedures, or short and soft field takeoffs and landings? Even if you never plan on bringing your Mooney into a short field or landing on grass, the continued training and education that goes into making you able to do so turns you into a better pilot. And a check ride is no more than paying a very seasoned individual to give you an unbiased assessment on where your talents are, and on what you should improve. It’s a win-win.

Whatever the reason, adding a Commercial Certificate has many benefits, and American Flyers would enjoy the chance to help you fully realize them. So, whenever you’re ready, please give us a call, and you can tell us what you hope to achieve by earning your commercial wings.  We can’t wait to help you do so!


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What’s In Your Flight Bag

What's in Your Bag

By Kasey King

Aviators: So people know that I am a pilot.

Stratux: Home-made unit to supply foreflight with in flight traffic and weather.

Combos: Snacks, because one should never fly hungry.

iPad: Supplied with foreflight for all current charts.

Highlighter Tape: For paper sectional/low enroute to highlight my route of flight. It saves time when trying to locate your specific victor airways.

GoPilot: For when you have to go…Better safe than sorry.

Mousse or hair gel: Because a headset can wreak havoc on your hair

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Are You Ready for ADS-B?


By Rick Farmer, National Head of Maintenance

Are you aware of the major changes to the National Airspace System that are currently underway? ADS-B or Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast will soon be replacing radar as the primary surveillance method for controlling aircraft worldwide. It is currently mandatory equipment for aircraft operating in Australia and some European countries, and will be mandatory in the United States starting January 1, 2020.

ADS-B consists of two different services: ADS-B “Out” and ADS-B “In”. This system is designed to increase safety and pilot situational awareness by providing highly accurate traffic information to Air Traffic Control, as well as other ADS-B “In” equipped aircraft operating in the area. Aircraft identification, position, altitude, and velocity are all sent from the aircraft through a combination GPS and Transponder based system to communicate with a network of ground stations.

The benefits of ADS-B technology are immense, and quickly revolutionizing the way that we fly. ATC can now position and separate aircraft with improved precision and timing, allowing them to better handle the world’s increasingly congested airspace. Pilots are now able to receive collision avoidance, airport information, aviation weather, notices to airmen, temporary flight restrictions, winds aloft, and other up-to-the-minute information sent right to the cockpit.

“ADS-B Technology is revolutionizing the way we fly.”

Cost is currently estimated to be anywhere from $4,000 – $20,000 per aircraft, but once your aircraft is properly equipped, the information is available through subscription free government-generated text, and graphical information.

What does this mean for the General Aviation aircraft owner? This FAA rule will require your aircraft to be equipped with at least ADS-B “Out” by 2020 if you operate your aircraft in Classes A, B, and C airspace, and certain Class E airspace. The “Out “portion of the ADS-B system reports your aircraft identification and position data to be received by ATC and other properly equipped aircraft in the area.

However, you will not be able to receive and view weather and traffic information sent from other aircraft unless you also have the ADS-B “In” equipment installed.

“The FAA is now offering a $500 rebate as an incentive to aircraft owners who get their aircraft converted early.”

While AOPA has been trying to urge the FAA to loosen the requirements for General Aviation aircraft due to the prohibitive cost of these conversions, the agency has stated that they have no intentions of making any changes to the requirements. As of late 2016, the FAA estimated that only 10 percent of the currently registered GA aircraft in the US have been converted. To help alleviate long delays with the avionics shops and equipment manufacturers, the FAA is now offering a $500 rebate as an incentive to aircraft owners who get their aircraft converted early.

The ADS-B network is currently up and running in the United States with many pilots already taking advantage of the benefits. Don’t wait until the last minute and risk having your aircraft grounded on Jan 1, 2020.

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Becoming a Pilot

Become a Pilot


For those of us who love airplanes, we know that flying can be for anyone who has a passion for aviation. We also know that it takes skill, dedication, the right mindset and attitude of an early explorer, and an adventurer’s spirit. It takes quick thinking and the ability to divide your mind among a wide variety of things. It takes a degree of confidence and personal drive to become a pilot.

Flying is for everyone – However, becoming a pilot takes planning, dedication and a carefully drawn out map. It takes a motivated student, a patient yet fervent teacher and a commitment from both parties to make aviation a priority. It doesn’t have to be done full-time – it most definitely can be undertaken as a part of your life – but it cannot be approached casually. Flight training is not about getting flight hours; it is not about just showing up and flying your time and expecting significant results. It is about studying and learning aviation, even if it is one piece or one lesson at a time.

Your path can start with studying at home, talking to other pilots, taking an introductory flight lesson or two, getting a flight simulator program on a laptop or home PC, and eventually starting out with a few lessons to sample the process. After those initial steps, you’ll know more about your personal aviation journey, and you’ll know what it’s like to train to become a pilot. And if it has to be a dedicated lesson or two a month, that’s fine, as long as you stay focused on aviation between lessons. On the other hand, it certainly is something that you can jump into with both feet and never look back. You can eat, sleep and breathe the training, and dedicate a few weeks to completely immerse yourself in the process, and come out a certified pilot. Or, you can go somewhere in the middle. The journey is different for us all, because all of us have different schedules and outside factors. You and your instructor – or flight school – need to have a serious conversation about what you can commit, from both a scheduling and financial standpoint, to reach your goals. Then, you and your flight school need to create a program just for you. Flight training is not cookie-cutter, it is not one-program-fits-all, and it is why not everyone can be a pilot. But you can.

Remind yourself that aviation is not a means to an end; it is an aspiration toward greatness. It is different from driver’s education and different from learning to golf. If it wasn’t, then everyone could be a pilot. But then maybe aviation would be ordinary; it would be common. It would be no different from learning to tie your shoes, and it would not carry the allure that it does.

If you want to become a pilot, then you can become a pilot. And if you do, you will not be the same. Becoming a pilot is a change in your life, and that change is different for everyone. You can find a path to becoming a pilot that will work you. You just have to prepare and plan for it.

In a lot of ways, figuring out how to take flight training requires the same skills as you need to be a pilot. It takes desire, and it takes commitment. It takes a can-do attitude, and it takes a problem-solving mindset to overcome the obstacles that might impede your progress. But if you make the decision that you will become a pilot, then you can. And American Flyers would love the opportunity to guide you along the way.

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