Sunday, July 23, 2017

Never too old to learn to fly: Shelbyville Flight Academy LLC at Shelbyville Municipal Airport (KSYI), Bedford County, Tennessee

Jonathan Lundberg, left, is the flight instructor working with Charl Dean Wright.

You are never too old to head into "the wild blue yonder."

That is the belief of both Linda and Joe Roberts, owners and operators of the Shelbyville Flight Academy, LLC, at the Shelbyville Municipal Airport. They believe people who have delayed their dream of earning a pilot's license should be encouraged to do so despite their age.

One of the prime examples of their belief is Charl Dean Wright, a 74-year-old academy student.

"I didn't know if they would take me or not," Wright said. "After the first two or three classes I didn't know how it was going to go.

Charl Dean Wright checks out the cockpit in one of the airplanes used for student pilot training at the Shelbyville Flight Academy.

"My wife said, 'You may have bitten off more than you can chew.' I thought maybe I did too because I had a stack of books. I kept pecking at it. My first solo was December 21, 2016. My last one was a couple of weeks ago. I am going to start working with my instructor on cross country flying."

Wright is originally from Kansas. He and his wife, Willa Dean, were long haul truckers working together as a couple. They have lived in Shelbyville for 50 years.

"I always had an interest in flying, but as a long haul trucker you just don't have the time to do it," Wright said. "My wife and I ran our truck 24/7.

"I was around aircraft for four years on the U.S.S. Ranger when I was in the Navy during the Vietnam era. After I got out of the service it was just too expensive for me to take lessons."

One of the twists for Wright is that he helped his son, Steven, get his start as a private pilot prior to his earning a scholarship to attend Middle Tennessee State University. Steven is a commercial pilot.

"He got his private pilot license here under Bob Bomar," Wright said. "It was a combination deal for us. He worked to help pay for the lessons.

"Steven told me if I wanted to learn to fly I needed to go ahead and do it. There wasn't an opportunity here for many years until Joe and Linda came here."

Linda and Joe Roberts are owners of the Shelbyville Flight Academy LLC, located at the Shelbyville Municipal Airport.

Jonathan Lundberg, working on his masters in aeronautics with a safety and security concentration at MTSU, serves as one of the academy instructors. Lundberg earned his bachelor's degree from the flight program at Eastern Kentucky University. He has been working for three months in Shelbyville. Wright is one of his students.

"Dean has been a fun student to fly with," Lundberg said. "He is nice to talk with. He has told me a lot of good stories. He is just a good pilot all around."

Joe stresses most people associate aviation with younger people, but he wants those who have been sitting on the sidelines for many years to get into the aviation game.

"People are scared to come back in," Joe said. "They let time go by. They got rusty or never finished up.

"We want to open this to an older generation. There are a lot of people like Dean out there. That is an age group that has not been tapped. If we can get them back in it would be great. General aviation is for everybody."

Joe explains there is no age limit in general aviation, but the overall health of a person is most important for those seeking a license to be a private pilot. Questions about items such as blood pressure and levels of medications must be answered before applying.

"There was a flight instructor in Tennessee who was 90years old and still teaching," Joe said. "The health issue is usually the primary concern."

Pilots must also pass biennial exams. Joe, a flight examiner for Connecticut, Massachusetts and Tennessee, administers those exams to pilots. Joe was presented the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award this year for 50 years of professionalism and expertise in aviation.

The Roberts moved from Connecticut to Shelbyville seeking a better climate in term sof weather and taxes. The academy is a new period in their careers.

"We are very enthusiastic about this," Joe said. "This academy is here because of the void that was here. We were both retired, but we enjoy working with the students and watching them advance."

Linda, a commercial-rated pilot, credited everyone in city government and the local airport for their support in the establishment of the academy. The academy opened in June of 2016.

"We wanted to be close to a good flight school and we wanted a property with its own airstrip," Linda said explaining their relocation. "MTSU has the great flight program. We found a property with an airstrip."

The youngest student in the academy is 13. There are 43 student folders with 27 actively involved in classes. Linda wants to see more women, regardless of age, become interested in obtaining their private pilot license. Only one female student has soloed since the academy opened here.

"There is a big gap between those who say they are going to get their license and those who do it," Joe said. "There seems to be a big gray area there."

Joe is impressed with the facilities at the Shelbyville airport. He is confident of a bright future there.

"I consider this airport to be a jewel in this area," Joe said. "I see this airport someday with a bigger hangar and a big flight service here like Signature to bring in more sophisticated airplanes.

"This is a perfect spot for someone to park some jets out here. We have 5,500 feet of brand new runway. This is perfect here. The use of private business jets is growing. Jets are more affordable today for those who fly. That is the future that is coming."

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