FLYING Reader Profile Series: Jon Gerhart & Ilya Khakham

A student pilot is a terrible thing to waste.

Jon Gerhart, IFR Student (left)
and Ilya Khakham, CFII & President,
DCT Aviation (right). Both FLYING readers.
Larry Melkus

(Advertorial) There's a right way to learn to fly and a wrong way, and Jon Gerhart has tried them both. After a less-than-fulfilling experience with his first instructor, Jon quit flying before he even soloed.

Ilya Khakham, President of DCT Aviation in Waterford, Michigan (KPTK), has heard this story before. He thinks one of the reasons we're losing so many student pilots isn't lack of money, it's lack of structure. Ilya says, "When you can't see progress, you get frustrated. When you get frustrated, you stop learning. And when you stop learning, you stop trying."

Learning to fly at warp speed.
Three years after Jon gave up on flying, he found Ilya. He's been in high-speed cruise ever since. Jon earned his private pilot license in just four months and is now closing in on his IFR checkride just in time for his twenty-seventh birthday, having flown almost 150 hours in the past year alone.

DCT Aviation is on the leading edge of flight schools that are reversing the drop-out rate by taking a holistic approach to training. Ilya created a highly-structured syllabus that keeps momentum going and moves a student closer to the checkride with every lesson. Plus, both student and CFI know what is expected from each lesson. The school also makes extensive use of simulators, reducing the time and cost of learning to fly.

It takes a village to raise a pilot.
One of the most important tricks to keeping students motivated is a strong sense of community. Ilya encourages them to hang around the school when they aren't flying. He bribes them with free pizzas on Fridays and seminars on Saturdays to make sure they get support from other pilots and feel like they're part of something special. Another DCT innovation is called "Flying Buddies." The instructors made a list of a hundred destinations within a flyable distance of the airport. They pinned up a ride-board next to the list so students can share the expense of an airplane and the fun of flying.

DCT makes sure students stay engaged by keeping all five of its Pipers up-to-date with identical setups of the latest equipment and other improvements. This is no small investment, and it makes Ilya one of his avionics shop’s favorite customers. But it’s just good business as far as he’s concerned. Nobody enjoys flying a ratty old airplane. The idea is that the more fun pilots have, the more they fly. So, everybody’s happy. And students like Jon stay renters long after they earn their licenses. Naturally enough, Jon wants to graduate from renter to owner, so he’s keeping an eye out for just the right airplane to put his stamp on. Jon’s already thinking about which avionics and upgrades he’ll choose.

Part of learning how to fly is learning what to read.
Turns out that all it took to reignite Jon's passion for flying was a positive learning experience. It's given him the foundation for a lifelong journey as a pilot and, along the way, as a consumer of all kinds of aviation products and services, starting with his favorite magazine. He says, "FLYING Magazine is filled with the kind of stuff that makes me want to jump in a plane and go flying."

FLYING is one of his instructor’s favorite resources, too. Ilya encourages all of his students to read FLYING, often calling their attention to articles on technique or safety.

Instructor and student are not alone in their mutual enthusiasm for FLYING. The stats show that 74% of all student pilots and CFIs alike are FLYING readers.

If you’re an advertiser who wants to find the next generation of active pilots, not to mention the veteran pilots and instructors who have the greatest influence on them, lesson number one is to look in the pages of FLYING.