The One Who Taught Me to Fly: Rookie Meets Rookie

A first-time CFI teaches a first-time learner, and love for aviation grows— on both sides.

Teaching someone to fly can be a life-altering experience on the same level as teaching someone to read, swim, or ride a bike. All these skills increase a person’s confidence and give them a sense of freedom.

But as anyone who has been through the flight training process will tell you, learning to fly is a lot more than learning to control an aircraft. Flight training changes you as a person, especially when you have a flight instructor who makes a profound, positive difference in your life.

Victor Cabrales’ fascination with aviation began before birth. “My parents said I fell in love with airplanes and anything aviation in the womb,” he said. “As early as 5 years old, I was asking to be taken to the local airport to watch airplanes land.”

Cabrales, who lives in central Florida, always wanted to fly, but as happens, life got in the way. Now in his 40s and living as a husband, father, and IT technician, what he describes as his “itch to fly” was not scratched until April 2020.

Cabrales signed up for a discovery flight at Kiss the Sun Flying Club at Kissimmee Gateway Airport (KISM) in Kissimmee, Florida. Two important things happened during that flight:

  • Cabrales discovered he loved aviation and wanted more.
  • He met Troy Techau, a retired Army officer and freshly minted CFI.

“We clicked instantly,” Cabrales said. “Our first lesson was in his hangar with his very own Cessna 172S. He taught me basic aerodynamics with the best training aid there is—an actual plane! He has always been very personal in his teaching and in producing constructive criticism of my flying and my studies.”

The Teacher Can Relate

Techau understands the desire to fly, and how the dream can be deferred. He was a career Army officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. During his time in the military, Techau says he flew a lot, but as a passenger. He finally began his flight training in 2003—whenever he was in the United States.

“So in between jaunts to Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Djibouti, and other garden spots, I got a private ticket at Peter O Knight airport (KTPF) in Tampa in a Piper Tomahawk,” Techau said. “I flew as a renter occasionally for about seven years, and in 2011, bought a 1999 Cessna 172S, which I still have today.”

In addition to pursuing flight training, Techau worked as an executive in the technology industry. He went back to school, too. He earned a Ph.D. in aviation safety and human factors from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Apart from teaching people how to fly, Techau also teaches an online course in aviation law at Middle Georgia State University. Even while keeping up this active schedule and spending time with his wife and two daughters, Techau found time to earn his CFI certificate.

On the Journey Together

“I got my CFI certificate in 2020 about two weeks before COVID hit,” Techau said. “Victor is my first and only ab initio student. As I teach online in asynchronous college classes, that one-to-one connection in the FBO doing ground school or in the cockpit flying can be very satisfying. I really enjoy doing flight reviews and Rusty Pilot work with friends around central Florida.”

Techau said that when Cabrales soloed, it was a big moment for both of them.

“He nailed it,” said Techau, adding that Cabrales calls him “Doctor Troy” because of his Ph.D., but understands the serious nature of the learner-instructor relationship.

“In the end, as an instructor, my primary responsibility is to prepare Victor with the skills, knowledge, and most importantly, judgment to fly his family safely as a newly minted private pilot.”

Techau and Cabrales’ flying careers are building in tandem, as they both approach significant milestones. When FLYING reached them, Techau was approaching 100 hours of dual instruction given and Cabrales, who had approximately 60 hours logged in a Cessna 172, was preparing for his private pilot checkride.

Cabrales notes that his wife and son are very supportive of his hobby.

“My wife loves the fact that she speaks about me as a pilot. She is very proud of how far I’ve come,” Cabrales said. “My 7-year-old is very excited for me and he is already telling everyone that he will become a pilot.

“He will most likely be my flying companion for most of my flights. He was with me on my discovery flight and loved every minute of it.”

Cabrales dreams of owning a Cessna Skylane of his own someday and is creating a list of places he wants to fly to. Among them are Kitty Hawk, North Carolina—the birthplace of controllable, powered flight—the New York/New Jersey area, and eventually, the West Coast. He’s also been inspired to become a flight instructor someday.

“Even though my life may not be singularly extraordinary or my plans lofty in nature, I am very blessed and happy to be able to fly,” Cabrales said. “Flying is a privilege that only some of us get to do and hopefully make a career out of it.”

“There are so many things in life that we take for granted, and flying is a true reminder of how blessed and lucky we are to be Americans. Flying, after all, is unique—nothing else comes close to it.”

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