Monday, January 02, 2017

West Virginia pilot crosses Boeing 737 off his 'bucket list'

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Gary Rodis has flown turbo-prop planes and helicopters in dozens of places around the world for 25 years for the federal government, but never flew a big jet like a Boeing 737.

He climbed into a 737 simulator a month ago, and he received certification to fly the big plane.

The program he enrolled in at the accelerated training course in Atwater, Calif., required spending 40 hours studying at home before taking on the simulator in California.

“I wasn’t overwhelmed at the array of buttons, knobs, screens and controls in that cockpit, but I was challenged at first," he said. "This was an accelerated 10-day training schedule."

Rodis, 60, of Charles Town, completed the program Dec. 10 and received his Federal Aviation Administration certification as a 737 pilot.

“I know now I can land a 737, but it was never about that," he said. "It’s about my bucket list. Something I had to accomplish, something I felt I really had to try. It’s never been about looking for a job flying big jets.”

Rodis said the training program cost about $11,000.

“I encouraged Gary to take the course,” said his wife, Sonjia. “I knew if he didn’t try, he would always regret it.”

He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1974 out of high school. He served until 1984, leaving as a staff sergeant.

He never flew planes for the Air Force, but he took private flying lessons during those years.

“I’ve wanted to fly planes all my life,” he said.

His formal education, paid for, in part, by the Air Force’s Tuition Assistance Program, included a bachelor's degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and an MBA from Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

For three years after his discharge, Rodis worked as an air-traffic controller.

In 1987, he was hired as a pilot to fly single- and twin-engine turbo-prop planes and helicopters for the U.S. Justice Department’s Air Wing Section after three months of training at the U.S. Marine Base at Quantico, Va.

For the next 25 years, Rodis flew Justice Department planes and helicopters around the world, flying criminal investigation, support, medical, cargo, passenger and evacuation missions for most federal agencies in and out of combat zones, as well as missions in allied countries.

He flew missions in North and South America, Africa, and in Middle and Far East countries.

The planes he flew weren't armed, he said.

Gary and Sonjia moved to their home on Eastland Drive outside Charles Town 14 years ago.


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