Pilot’s Digest: How long have you wanted to be a pilot, and why?
John Payne: I’ve always been involved in sports and activities; I played football, basketball and ran track in middle school. High school was when things started to change, and I really had to start thinking about what it was I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Sophomore year, my high school got a Junior ROTC program, so I decided to join that. It helped shape me and build me to get more serious about things and be more responsible. At the end of my high school career, I become the commanding officer of the program – which was huge! It gave me a lot of good opportunities to meet people, and focus on what I want to do with the rest of my life. I discovered that I wanted to be a pilot.
PD: So, your dreams of becoming a pilot started around your junior year of high school?
John: Now that is a very good question.
PD: Thank you. Maybe I should do this professionally.
John: My aspirations of becoming a pilot are not as old as most people’s. I haven’t always been interested in flying or planes. Because of my mom – she used to work for American Airlines and TWA – the aviation industry has always been a part of me. A couple of years ago, I got into a program called Ace Academy, which is run by the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. It’s a five-day course that just exposes you to the entire aviation industry. It was in Dallas, TX, so they took us around the airport, showed us the air traffic control tower, let us get into the flight sims. On top of the Civil Air Patrol, where I had my first orientation flight, I would say that’s where I really got serious about wanting to become a pilot. I enjoyed [that first flight] and they said I was pretty good at [flying], so I decided to run with it. My family had always wanted me to become a lawyer or something like that, but after being exposed to [aviation], I figured, you know, flying is something that is really fun. It’s very complex – it’s not something that is easy to do, and it’s not for everybody. Whenever I do fly, I just get this happy feeling that I never get anywhere else. When it comes to flying, I’m just super into it, and all about it… it’s just very fun, and I enjoy it.
PD: What made you choose American Flyers for your flight training?
John: I did a couple of flights, and researched different places that I could get my license before I go off to college. The summer before my senior year, I took this solo flight academy. It was two weeks long, you got about ten hours in the airplane, and by the end of it you’re supposed to be able to solo. During that entire process, we got information about where to go for flight training, different colleges, what are the costs and everything associated with it. My mom and I did some research and we found American Flyers. They just did a great job advertising their business, all of the reviews for American Flyers were amazing. I did a quick tour of the Addison school, and I felt like it was the place for me. It was just perfect. It gave me exactly what I needed in a great amount of time with a good cost.
PD: How much classroom time and study time outside American Flyers did you have to spend prior to passing your flight test?
John: I would say that the classroom time with American Flyers was definitely crucial. I took their weekend ground course to pass the written; I would say that was the best thing I could’ve ever taken in my life to get the written test done. And then I took all of my notes from the written test course, all the notes from my individual ground classes with my instructor, and all of my experiences in the airplane, and would spend time every single night that I had training – which was about a month and a half, on and off – reviewing my notes. I spent more time when I was preparing for my check ride, basically every day, just reviewing my notes. American Flyers certainly prepared me for that flight test, however the time I spent outside of American Flyers definitely paid off. My last flight with American Flyers was almost perfect, and the oral exam went smooth. There were very few flaws in the oral – I think I might have missed one question – and everything in the flight was to standards. It just worked out perfectly.
PD: Now that you’ve got your Private Pilot Certificate, what’s next? Where do you go from here?
John: Getting the private pilot certificate was probably one of my greatest accomplishments. I was trying to get my license before going off to school, and getting my private pilot’s license at American Flyers would be tremendously cheaper than getting it in college. Now, I’m just going through the ratings [in college], I’m doing instrument training now, then I’ll do commercial, my flight instructor [certificate and ratings], build my hours and go to the airlines.
PD: You mentioned your mom was involved with the airlines at American and TWA; are there any other pilots in your family?
John: No sir. That’s what’s kinda special about the entire thing: there are no pilots in my family.
PD: Well, not true; now there’s one.
John: Well, yes sir. There’s me. And I plan on making everybody proud. Everybody was super excited to find out that I got my private because it’s just nothing that’s ever been a part of our family. Nobody’s ever done it, so it was just that much more special to me.
PD: Well good for you, and congratulations! Now, for some happy–fun pilot questions, what is your favorite airplane?
John: Favorite airplane… that’s a good question.
PD: Thank you. Again, maybe I should do this professionally.
John: It’s certainly one that I won’t be able to fly, unfortunately, but I would say the SR–71 Blackbird. It just interests me completely. The history behind it, it was the highest flying and fastest moving for its time. It was just incredible, the things you could do in that aircraft. And I wish I could fly it but, of course, it’s been retired. It will always hold a very special place in my heart.
PD: What is your favorite airplane-themed movie?
John: Of course, it has to be Top Gun. Every aviation person alive has Top Gun in their hearts! It’s just one of the greatest movies, it has camaraderie, challenges that people have to face, romance… It just had everything in it. I don’t think I’ve met a single person who doesn’t like that movie. I grew up on that movie, I loved it the first time I saw it, and the 52 times I saw it afterwards.
PD: Dream question: you have a bunch of time off, money is not an object, and you get to fly anywhere. Where does your dream trip take you?
John: There are quite a few places that I would definitely love to fly. I would love to fly the Bermuda Triangle, just to meet Amelia Earhart. I would also like to fly in a mountainous area, maybe the Appalachian Mountains, maybe the Himalayas, if possible, just so I can see the elevation and differentiation of the landscape.
PD: Last question: what have you learned from American Flyers that is crucial in choosing the right flight school?
John: American Flyers taught me that if you want to become a pilot, and if you want to be successful, you can’t choose a flight school just based on cost or the ease of their program. American Flyers was not entirely easy, but it was very beneficial in the way that it challenged me. They taught me some things that I’ve carried over from my flight training to my life, and it’s very important to find a place that suits you. It’s not always all about cost, it’s about what will make you more successful. American Flyers did that, so I feel like I’ll be probably be successful wherever I go. I would recommend American Flyers to anyone. The program is amazing. As quick as you want to go, the program is very flexible, and that’s very important for a lot of people.