Aviation Apprentice Wanted

for Philip Greenspun, posted in April 2006

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I am looking for an apprentice, interested in learning the skills that I have developed over the years. This position is designed for someone seeking a bachelor's degree in aviation, with the goal of becoming a professional pilot. The position would last between three and four years.

Why spend $120,000 and four years going to an aviation college when you can spend three or four years working with me and get the bachelor's degree plus all of your flight training and walk into that first job debt-free?

The Apprenticeship in Brief

You become an Internet-based student at Utah Valley State College (UVSC), an accredited four-year school with a popular Bachelor of Science in Aviation. Although UVSC has an excellent flight department of its own, with brand-new Diamond Aircraft trainers, you may also earn your degree by taking most courses over the Internet and doing flight training with any standard FAA Part 61 flight school.

I own an airplane and two helicopters, fly almost every day, and have airplane CFI, airplane CFII, and helicopter CFI ratings (will have the MEI and helicopter CFII soon enough). Many of my friends own aircraft as well and some are flight instructors. I can make sure that, if you stick with me for four years, you will have a lot more flight hours than someone who went through a standard four-year aviation program. Many of these flight hours will be helicopter hours, which very few aviation colleges offer.

If you like the idea of having a desk job to fall back on, or simply are interested in computers, I have a Ph.D. in Computer Science and extensive experience as a software engineer and as a teacher of Computer Science at MIT. You will help me out with Internet projects and learn Web development and the relational database management system (SQL).

You're responsible for driving us around on the ground, either in a minivan or a motorhome. When I'm up in the air with a student, you're responsible for dog care (one or two Samoyeds). You will have the use of a laptop computer with a full-time Internet connection (works anywhere there is mobile phone service) so that you can do schoolwork. If we decide to do helicopter rides from a resort hotel somewhere, you're responsible for getting there in a ground vehicle, putting up signs, briefing customers, ground safety (i.e., walking customers to the ship so that they don't run into the tail rotor) You're responsible for all of the chores associated with all of the vehicles, both ground and aerial, i.e., making sure that everything gets the right maintenance and has the right logbook entries.

About Me

I am 42 years old and live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2001, I retired from a 23-year career as a software engineer and began flight training. Four and a half years later, I have nearly 1500 hours of total time. Currently, I hold a Commercial pilot's certificate with single-engine land, multi-engine land, single-engine sea, instrument airplane, and rotorcraft-helicopter ratings. I hold a Flight Instructor certificate with airplane single-engine, instrument airplane, and rotorcraft-helicopter ratings. I am working on my multi-engine instructor rating and an airplane ATP certificate. I have a lot more light aircraft cross-country experience than most people at my level, having done Boston-to-Alaska-and-back a couple of times in single-engine planes and Los Angeles-to-Boston once in a Robinson R22 helicopter.

I keep saying that I am going to get married and have children, but I never seem to get around to it. If I were to get married, I would probably move to a suburban house close to Hanscom Field (KBED).

I put a lot of energy into relationships with friends and continue to visit and spend time with friends that I met back in college or graduate school (in the 1980 and 1990s). I've had good working relationships with people who were both competent and sincerely interested in becoming more competent. I've had bad working relationships with people who are not competent and indifferent to quality work (sadly, there are a lot of folks like this in the computer programming world, which is one reason that I prefer aviation). I'm still good friends with a lot of the capable and hard-working people that I once worked with; you can also find folks out there who will say that I'm too demanding and too harsh in my criticism. (I have earned almost universally high marks as a flight instructor, probably because the average person learning to fly or learning instruments pays a lot more attention than the average junior computer programmer.)

I have a lot of experience with photography, both film and digital, and have a better collection of photographic equipment than most professional photographers. I have taught photography to college students.

I enjoy teaching and spending time with young people for whom my advice and/or the skills that I teach might make a difference for their future.

About You

Here are the characteristics that I think will make for a successful apprentice:

A Typical Day

You wake up in a shared apartment or house in Somerville, Massachusetts, home to college students and young working people. You pick me and the dog up in Cambridge at 7:00 am and drive us out to Hanscom Field so that I can give an 8:00 am helicopter flying lesson. You do schoolwork from a laptop computer. If the weather is nice, we take a lunch break in the woods of Lincoln, Massachusetts, about a 10-minute drive from the airport, and walk the dog(s) or ride mountain bikes.

We go back to the airport at 2:00 pm. If nobody has booked a lesson, we leave the dog on the ground and go up in an airplane or helicopter. If I am giving a lesson, you can hang out at Hanscom, one of the busiest corporate and flight training airports in the U.S., and meet a range of interesting professional pilots and aircraft owners. At 4:00 pm, you go back to the dog and the schoolwork and I give more flying lessons until 8:00 pm. You drop me off at home and go back to your apartment.

If the weather is bad, you might have the whole day to yourself while I do deskwork in my apartment.

A Typical Month

We go to the airport on all of the good-weather days, which means 4-5 days per week. You spend one or two days per week doing Internet application development and maintenance, which might overlap with airport days. Once every month, I will go on a 4-7-day trip with an instrument student or just to visit friends. In some cases, you might come along on one of these trips. If you stay behind, you're responsible for taking care of my apartment and animals (dog, fish). Most of the time, the dog will actually stay with one of his old friends, e.g., my downstairs neighbor. But if she is unavailable for some reason, you are responsible.

A Typical Year

The summer is the most intensive period of flight training and we will spend most days at the airport. During the spring and fall, we have to contend with the generally unfavorable Massachusetts weather. When it isn't so cloudy and rainy that one needs to fly instruments, it is often so windy and turbulent that students can't fly a small helicopter or control a light airplane on instruments. In the middle of winter, I usually go away to the Southern Hemisphere for three weeks to escape the darkness.

You'll probably have at least 6-8 weeks off every year, during which time the dog will stay with his friends and you'll be free to study, travel, fly, etc. For all but 2-3 weeks of this time, you would be expected to be available to do some Web site maintenance in the event of problems arising.

Who Pays for What

I pay for the following items: You pay for entertainment, clothes, rental of aircraft for personal trips, flights home to see the parents (some of this can come from the personal expenses fund above).

Length of Contract

We do this on a quarterly basis. If the apprenticeship isn't working, either you or I can call it quits after three months with no hard feelings. Every three months we come up with a plan and goals for the next three months.

Where You'll be After Four Years

After four years, you will be a competent Internet application developer, with better skills than the average M.I.T. graduate. You will know how to use the best digital cameras and process digital images. You should have the following FAA certificates and ratings: Unlike the typical aviation college graduate, you will also have a rotorcraft-helicopter rating on your pilot certificate and at least 150 hours of helicopter time. You will have a bachelor of science degree from an accredited college.

You will have lived in the Boston area for four years, home to objectively miserable flying weather but also some of the world's most interesting, intelligent, and well-educated people.

How to Apply

Apply: Send cover letter and resume in plain text, HTML, or PDF format (not Microsoft Word!) to philg@mit.edu with a subject line of "aviation apprentice application"
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