PAC-man Surprise

PAC-man Surprise

by Ralph Hood

Ralph Hood is a Certified Speaking Professional who has addressed aviation groups throughout North America. A pilot since 1969, he’s insured and sold airplanes at retail and distributor levels and taught aviation management for Southern Illinois University. Reach him at In early May I had lunch with Dick Bennett, founder and operator of Pensacola (FL) Aviation Center (PAC). Dick has a beautiful operation in Pensacola, and PAC’s flight training school is flying eight Piper Tomahawks 70 to 80 hours per month — each. They also have two Warriors and one Archer flying almost as much. PAC-man Surprise

Dick credits the whole thing to Skip Giles, PAC’s director of flight operations, and The Great Waldo Pepper, director of training. (That’s not his real name, but his last name is Pepper, and everyone has called him Waldo ever since that movie came out.) Both Giles and Pepper are ex-marines and they run a gung-ho flight school. Giles says they are also adept at working with the guvmint.
PAC has something going remi-niscent of the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program of WWII. They pro-vide initial (sometimes called "intro-ductory") flight training (sometimes called "screening") for military offi-cers of the Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, with the Guvmint providing the money upfront. I wouldn’t have believed it myself, if I hadn’t seen those eight Tomahawks.
They also train civilian pilots under another guvmint program — Sally Mae — whereby students borrow money from the guvmint to pay for flight training. The money is put into escrow, and PAC draws from it as the students use it.
Interestingly, PAC has no contract with the guvmint under these pro-grams. Each student may choose any Part 141 school for training. PAC is, however, ideally located near military bases, and Giles says they have gone out of their way to make their school convenient and useful for the guvmint as well as attractive to these students.
While we’re on the subject of flight training, kudos are in order for the industry’s Be A Pilot program, and the fellow who runs it, Drew Steketee. I’ve been involved in a few learn-to-fly programs myself, but Drew is making it work. I always thought we should train CFIs to sell. Be A Pilot does it the other way around, by putting out coupons for flight lessons. No doubt you have seen the coupons advertised on TV. The theory is working, and Drew can certainly be proud of the each. They also have two Warriors and one accomplishments. More power to him.
Still on flight training, my California son — the Silicon Valley computer engineer — is now taking flying lessons. He is a graduate of two open-ocean SCUBA diving schools, two handgun schools, and two motor-cycle schools, and owns the requisite equipment for all those activities. He teaches ballroom dancing.
He grew up in airplanes and around airports, back when I was in the business. Nobody ever tried to sell him flying lessons, so he finally just went out to the airport with a couple of friends. Maybe he got one of those coupons. In any event, he seems to be eating it up.

Now hear this: Airport security is becoming less troublesome. Riding the airlines is still on par with a proc-tology exam done by Roto-Rooter, but it ain’t as bad as it was. The people in charge of passenger harassment are polite, even when passengers aren’t, and there are even indications they have received some training. They have finally added tables near the con-veyor belt so passengers can unpack their laptops as required, and there is more consistency. It is evident that the airports really are trying, and I appre-ciate it.
If things keep improving, maybe we will get back to the point where fly-ing is faster than driving again.