Features  / 05.10 /


A Marine takes flight

One of the most intriguing aspects of AOPA’s 2010 Fun to Fly Remos GX is its potential as a trainer for twenty-first-century pilots.

The Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category is intended to be aviation’s new front door—an exciting and welcoming pathway for future pilots to enter flying. In an effort to explore LSA’s potential in this vital area for general aviation’s future, AOPA has invited a sport pilot candidate to learn to fly in the Fun to Fly Remos GX: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Blair.

Blair, 35, fought in some of the fiercest battles in Iraq during two deployments in 2004 and 2006, and he was severely wounded when the Humvee he was driving struck a roadside bomb there. Blair, a married father of a 4-year-old daughter, has undergone scores of orthopedic surgeries on two reconstructed knees and resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, while undergoing physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The facility is less than an hour’s drive from AOPA’s headquarters in Frederick, Maryland, and Blair has been making the commute several times a week to fly the Remos. Snow and high winds have grounded many of the planned flights during the harshest winter in decades, but Blair (nicknamed “Bulldog”) has passed the sport pilot knowledge test and made rapid progress in flight training.

“I’ve been curious about flying, and wanted to fly, for many years,” Blair said. “I even stopped by flight schools at a couple of airports to find out what it would take to learn to fly before I went to Iraq. But at the time I was getting ready to deploy and didn’t have the time to see it through.”

Unlike most GA flight students who have to be coaxed and reassured before attempting potentially intimidating maneuvers such as stalls and steep turns, Blair’s instructors at AOPA (Dave Hirschman and Al Marsh) have sought to tone down Blair’s innate exuberance.

“The Remos is a very responsive airplane and very light on the controls,” Hirschman said. “When it’s time to turn, Michael tends to lay it on its side. The Marines should have put him in a Harrier instead of a Humvee.”

Marsh civilized him by emphasizing the subtle use of the airplane’s electric trim system.

After eight hours of flying in the Remos, Blair is practicing touch-and-go landings in preparation for his first solo flight. He’s also taken his 4-year-old daughter, Bella, for her first GA flight in a Cessna 172 with Steve Van Kirk, a veteran flight instructor and retired airline pilot.

Blair said the flight with his girl was the highlight of his training so far, and he hopes she’ll be his first passenger once he obtains his sport pilot certificate.

“If I had known how much fun flying was going to be,” he said, “I would have started sooner. Bella absolutely loves it, and I hope flying is something we can share as a family for many, many years.”