The Journey from MX to CFI

Being a part of the Commemorative Air Force gave me a chance of a lifetime to ride on a repositioning flight with warbird pilot Alan Miller in Redtail, a historic P-51C Mustang. Courtesy Melvin Williams

Aviation has always been a dream and interest in my life. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, not too far away from John F. Kennedy International Airport (KJFK). I used to wake up to airplanes screaming out of the airport every single morning as child before I got ready for school.

One morning, I noticed the sound was different—it wasn’t the usual growl. This sounded like it had some speed to it, so I ran to my back window. When I looked, I saw a dartlike airplane that howled by, followed by a loud bang. That aircraft was known as Concorde.

At this point, I was hooked; I wanted to be in aviation without a doubt. When it was time for high school, I had to make a list of which high schools I was interested in, with my top choice first. (That’s the way it is within the New York City public school system.) Going through the book, I saw Aviation High School in Queens, and I was sold. I figured in order to start my journey as a pilot, that was where I had to go. I put the school at the top of my list and was accepted as a student.

"Upon graduation at 18 years old, I was a qualified aircraft maintenance technician with an airframe and powerplant certificate." Courtesy Melvin Williams

I went to the school for freshman orientation, and I realized it was a school that made aircraft technicians, not pilots. I was a bit disappointed, but I still had an opportunity to be a part of the aviation industry and contribute, which I was OK with. High school was fun—not many teenagers get a chance to work with heavy machinery and play with welding torches and jet engines.

Upon graduation at 18 years old, I was a qualified aircraft maintenance technician with an airframe and powerplant certificate. It felt surreal. I couldn’t believe that, at such a young age, I could work on airplanes. What made it even crazier was that I was hired by a major airline to be an aircraft maintenance technician at the airport where the dream started, John F. Kennedy airport.

I started my career in the cabin—fixing seat backs, overhead bins and changing carpets. I then moved on to line maintenance, where I worked on engines, landing gear and numerous other items. I had the best time of my life there learning and just having fun. I eventually transferred to Atlanta, where I held other positions in maintenance.

DPE Kevin Harper and me after I passed my multiengine check ride. Courtesy Melvin Williams

While I was working in Atlanta, I had a callout to address an issue on an aircraft. When I got up there, the captain looked at me and said: “You’re a pretty young-looking guy. Have you ever thought about flying?” My answer while laughing was, “A long time ago—not anymore.” I saw this same captain two more times within the next two months, and he’d ask the same thing. I finally broke down and expressed my interest in an introductory flight, and we exchanged numbers.

He set me up with my first intro flight at Henry County Airport (KHMP) in Hampton with a friend of his who was an instructor, and the rest was history. I ended up earning my private, instrument, commercial, multiengine and, finally, CFI ratings in the span of a little more than 3 years.

Read More: In Depth

After I got my private, I spent time just flying and enjoying it, taking a break from all the studying and written exams. I wanted to share my newfound love and passion with friends and family, hoping to ignite a fire in them to want to do the same thing. When I was ready to continue my journey, I started pursuing my instrument rating.

The instrument was a tough one, so much information to process. In my training, I was discouraged a few times and actually began to feel like I was in way over my head on this one. I had to really engulf myself in it for it to click. This required nonstop studying and videos to help. Surprisingly, I started having the time of my life learning how to shoot approaches and holds and pick up IFR clearances.

"Flying has been a dream since I was a little boy looking out my back window in Brooklyn, and now I’m living it." Courtesy Melvin Williams

When it was time for my instrument check ride, I failed my first time around. Nervousness got the best of me, and I forgot to look up at the runway when the designated pilot examiner called it in sight. Unfortunately, I became so fixated on flying the ILS approach and completely had a brain fart. I was absolutely devastated—but I just accepted it, got back in the saddle, got together with my CFI and scheduled another check ride. I passed that time around, and I felt like a genius because instrument flying is such a challenge.

I moved on to the commercial license. It was a blast building and fine-tuning the information I had already acquired. Some of the commercial maneuvers were challenging, but it eventually came together. Becoming a commercial pilot was gratifying because I could actually get hired to fly, and that was a fantastic feeling, to say the least. I sat and pondered multiengine training for a while because it can be pretty expensive. The thing was, I wanted to make myself more marketable as a pilot, so I went forward with it and earned my multiengine add-on rating.

At this point, becoming a CFI was an obvious decision for me. Already being a maintenance instructor for my day job, I felt teaching was in my blood. Plus, if you know me personally, you know that I like to talk. But interestingly, the hardest thing about becoming a CFI during training was talking out loud while flying. I was used to things just happening; to fly and explain was different but a lot of fun. Being a CFI now allows me to follow through if someone has an interest in flying. I can take them on as a student and make them into another pilot, which is an absolute blessing.

Buzzing around southern Georgia in a friend’s North American T-6 Texan. Courtesy Melvin Williams

Recently, I’ve had an interest in aerobatics, and I bought an American Champion Decathlon to train in. I’m not sure where it will take me, but it’s exhilarating to fly aerobatics. I went to Greg Koontz’s two-day basic aerobatic course. If you have a Decathlon and want to learn how to tame it, he’s definitely the man to see.

Moving forward, I’d like to continue to promote the enjoyment in aviation and be an ambassador in the industry. By using my Instagram and newly started YouTube channel, I hope I can encourage the passion in someone to get in the air. I also go back to my high school in New York and connect with the students there—they need that representation.

Flying has been a dream since I was a little boy looking out my back window in Brooklyn, and now I’m living it. In the area I grew up in, aviation wasn’t a thing, and nobody talked about it. Being an African American, representing my community is imperative because then they know they can pursue aviation. I still meet individuals who tell me that I’m the first Black pilot that they have met. That simply tells me that I have more work to do in spreading the joy of the wonderful world of aviation.

This story appeared in the January-February 2021 issue of Flying Magazine


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter