The determination to learn to fly

The method I chose to use for learning.

By the time I had finished college, I had read the book “Think and Grow Rich by “Napoleon Hill” several times so I wasn’t unaware of Hill’s statement that “desire is the key” and I had a fever to learn.

After waiting two years from my flying in Helena, MT, it was time to get it done, What a perfect time to do the job and I knew this was my only chance to finish.

The perfect time all fell into place and because of that decision, I met some of the greatest people in aviation history and I was too naive to even have a clue about who these people were. I was a student pilot. That earned me a tiny bit of respect from these icons as well as some respect from the pilots that flew out of Red Baron Flying Service. When I took flying lessons in that wonderful environment, I only ran into one guy who was a total hubristic jerk who treated everyone like he was better than everyone. No doubt a good pilot. He just had no people skills.

I became what I guess would be an honorary member of the Red Baron Racing Team as we were always off to the air races or the air shows and I tagged along. Because of my association with Mr. Gene Mallette, and George Roberts I was always welcome in the pits so I got to meet all of the people that were involved in air racing, and that included everyone competing at the Reno National Air Races. My first visit to the Reno air races was in 1976. My life was then all about airplanes. Just where I wanted to be.

Watching these people work at the races was fascinating, the mechanics amazed me how quickly they could repair things.

I had the great honor of meeting Bob Hoover, Patty Wagstaff, Lefty Gardner, Mac McClain, Steve Hinton, and many many more very interesting people in all aspects of aviation. And I was lucky enough that I got to meet them socially so that I actually got an opportunity to know them a little bit instead of just shaking hands.

But in the background of all of the excitement, I was studying and preparing and learning to fly.

Ed Browning approached me about purchasing a 1974 Cessna 172 that Red Baron owned and after speaking with my brother Gene Mallette it became very evident that owning an airplane was the cheapest way to learn how to fly.

Gene wasted no time and assisted me in financing the airplane and I became the proud owner of N21699.

Now I had all the tools I needed to learn how to be a pilot.

Cessna 172 panel
Cessna 172 in flight

This is what you need to start learning to fly.

You must be healthy enough to pass a physical.

Then comes the desire. Take yourself to the nearest airport with a training facility and speak to them about an introductory flight. If you’re absolutely sure you want to follow through then you can tell your instructor from the start. That way you can start understanding the maneuvers that you’re going to have to learn immediately. When I began flying we certainly didn’t have the information available at our fingertips as we do now so it was all book learnin for me.

That environment was perfect for me because I was upstairs in the loft above the office in the log hangar building so I was right in the midst of anything and everything that happened during the day at Red Baron. If anything cool taxied onto the ramp I was out there to look at it and meet the people getting out. Plus I was ready to fly every single day which I did weather permitting and instructor availability. I was 8 to 5 at the airport studying and flying. Gene would pick me up and the evenings were spent going over the private pilot test questions.

Gene also had his student license and had soloed plus access to a Piper Supercub owned by Red Baron to fly. The goal was to get the FAA private exam and then pass the check-ride.

You can certainly read everything you can get your hands on about private pilot maneuvers before you ever even go out to the airport. You can also download a flight simulator onto your computer. Rod Machado wrote the programs for Microsoft for the simulator so it’s easily accessible as a download. That’s just one more reason why I promote Rod Machado.

Choosing Instructors

Choosing the right instructor for you is a matter of the interview process really. Find someone but you feel comfortable with and you can talk to. Using young instructors is OK. I used both young and older instructors and it worked well for me. I was lucky enough to find some World War Two era pilots that really taught me a lot about flying airplanes.

One man that I admired greatly Vard Hendricks a CFII, scheduled me for a two-hour flight after I had mastered the private pilot maneuvers.

We left Idaho Falls and headed towards Rexburg ID and worked on VOR tracking. Then onto Rigby Idaho at the western base of the Grand Tetons and started the return to Idaho Falls. Vard informed me that since I had bought an airplane I needed to know about spins. He just said if you’re gonna fly this thing and you get into trouble you better know how to recover. The idea scared the **** out of me.

Spins are normally only taught driving the certified flight instructor course and it is a required maneuver to pass that. Once he showed me the maneuver and I did it myself I discovered what great fun it really was.

I spent five more days in training and at the end of those days Vard scheduled me for a whole afternoon of flying and off we went to Caldwell ID., then Boise, and up to Idaho City which is a grass strip. The field was wet and somewhat muddy.

Vard wanted me to learn how to land and take off on a soft field. The landing was no big deal but the takeoff was a little bit scary because I needed to be at full power with the brakes on, the control wheel pulled all the way back, and then release brakes. The purpose of keeping back pressure on the yolk is to ensure that the nosewheel does not ever touch the ground. Once you have some ground speed you can slowly release that pressure and continue your takeoff roll. The worst part of that ordeal that day was that I had to go back to Idaho Falls and wash the airplane and get all the mud off underneath the wings and the wheel pants. I learned a hell of a lot that day.

I started to feel like I was actually learning how to do this and I was gonna make it through it. That was November 25th 1975.

I continued with my training and was recommended for my private pilot check ride on December 20th, 1975 by Doug Verseput.

On December 21st, 1975 Mr. Larry Reinerz, the designated examiner gave me my private pilot check ride and I passed. Gene flew with Larry later that day and passed his so we both got our private pilot licenses the same day.

That was just 5 weeks from the time I started at Red Baron until I was a real private pilot. So now I was free to have some fun and to learn how to fly out in the real world. I needed to build hours/experience towards my commercial instrument ratings

Now I was free to go on some Absolutely Fabulous adventures.

A quick review of what you need to start flying


Medically sound so you know and healthy enough to do this. If you have any doubts then go to an aviation medical examiner and ask for an evaluation. Don’t fill out any paperwork just get the evaluation. If anything comes up that might disqualify you that is fixable will be told to you. I’m telling you to get the evaluation so you do not have any chance of failing a medical.


An introductory flight.

Choose an instructor.

Dedicate yourself and study. Here is some free material that you can use to get started, go to Rod Machado’s website and download his free flight training syllabus and his free ground school training syllabus, Just go to, click on catalog and add them to your cart and then download the two free documents that I just mentioned.

There’s plenty of information online including FAA exams with answers and anything that you want to search for. These tools weren’t available to me and I wish they had been.

Pivate pilot test prep
ACME Private pilot exam questions and answers 1974

Here is a picture of the exam book I used. Things have really changed since 1975.


One point I really want to emphasize. When you get a copy of the FAA-written test questions and answers take the answer sheet and highlight the correct answer. When you are studying NEVER read the wrong answer under any circumstances. The FAA is known to try to confuse you so just highlight and read the correct answers. I’ve passed many FAA written exams just this way.

If you have questions or comments please leave them here. I’ll answer any questions that you might have. I am at your disposal. Please consider me as your secondary flight instructor.Red Baron Flying Service and the World Famous RB 51




5 thoughts on “The determination to learn to fly”

  1. I believe it gives you a nice sensation when you find someone you can trust to train you in a specific subject, such as aviation in your case. You needed to fly. I believe the most important factor is to find someone you can trust and open up to. It’s not the same as receiving instructions from someone you know and respect a bit. You need someone to trust completely in order to benefit from the training.
    My question is, how do you compare ancient and newer airplane instructions? For me, I’ve never tried aviation. I believe you know the difference better than I do. Only by playing video games did I do it. However, the way you describe the beauty of flying is incredible, and it makes one want to try it out sometime.

    Thank you very much for your post.

    • Hi Lionel thanks very much for your comments and yes you must find someone you can very well trust and all instructors have different varied experiences so choosing one can be a bit of a process. I always enjoyed flying with pilots who are well seasoned.

      To answer your question I really can’t say what it was like to learn to fly in the early 1900s but today and throughout my years of flying the principles are all the same and always have been. We just have far more understanding of it. Take some time and go out to the airport and find an instructor and take an introductory flight a lot of aviation schools will give you that first flight free of charge but maybe that’s not the case any longer. It’s a lot of fun and you’d enjoy it immensely.

      your friend


  2. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Yes, wanting something badly is the fuel to achieve our goals. My son wants also to become a pilot and we don’t know where to start. I can relate to you when you say that back in our days it was all researched in books. Kids now have an advantage. Do you think that content on the internet when it comes to learning how to fly is really helpful? My son and I have found it misleading at times.

    • Hello Abel, thank you very much for your comments I’m very pleased to hear that your son has made a choice to fly. There’s a lot of content on the net ‘that we know isn’t true, and unfortunately, a lot of it just wants to get our money. 

      In my last article ‘determination to fly’ I mention two articles that can be downloaded for free,. I would recommend downloading them both. One is the ground school training syllabus and the other is the flight training syllabus. It is a good place to start. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get going. Your son’s health is the most important thing. I don’t know where you are in the world but you need to find an aviation medical examiner and get a flight physical which includes your student pilot license. Most flight schools will let you go fly the first time without having to have a physical. but if he is serious I would get the physical first. 

      Any questions that you have are most welcome so don’t hesitate You can send me an email or private message me I’d be happy to give you my email address so you can contact me easily.. I’m sure I can help you through the hard stuff

      your friend


    • Abel, I failed to mention the website. this is a source that you can seriously trust simply learn to navigate through the FAA site everything you need is published there. for pilot study tips just type in those words. your son will need the federal aviation regulations and the airman information manual which are a combined book. start with part 61 in the FAR’S all of the regulations and rules are listed there i think it’s OK for me to send my email address so here it is or As i mentioned contact me anytime you want, I will to help you all i can..


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