As promised in the previous post, here’s the Q&A with deaf/amputee pilot Mike Boland (at left), an American Airlines mechanic and an inspiration for all of us who would love to learn to fly but feel hobbled by an impediment. Sincere thanks to Mike, a friend of the Deaf Pilots Association, for taking time out of his weekend to share these thoughts. Let me know if you have questions for him, particularly in regard to the sponsorships he’s seeking (see Question #6 below), and I’ll share them with him.
Obviously, there are many, many questions one would like to ask Mike, but, in trying to respect his time, I opted for seven that sketch a bit of background and context about him. Here they are:
1. What does flying mean to you? Why are you so passionate about it?
Flying is very relaxing to me. I just like being up there in the sky, watching the world go by, the changing landscape. Some people use drugs to escape stress. I use flying.
2. You began flying in 1978. As a student?
My brother, David, was in high school in an Airframe & Powerplant course, and his teacher ran an aviation repair shop at the local airport. I wanted to attend the Airframe & Powerplant class, too, but the school district was very selective of who they allowed into the program and didn't think a deaf person like me could succeed in the class. Instead, I was steered into typical "deaf careers" -- offset lithography/printing, and the printing class was right across the hall from the Airframe & Powerplant hanger.
I mentioned to my brother I'd like to fly, but I can't hear on radios. He told me you don't need to. Encouraged, I started flying lessons. My brother soloed in 10 hours, but I had like 30-plus hours and was still having trouble landing and (conducting) other flight maneuvers. I was told by several CFIs (Certificated Flight Instructors ) to give it up, I was just wasting my money.
Mike and three other deaf pilots at the recent Reno (Nev.) Air Races. From left: Guy Pratt of Portland, Ore.; Rusty Reagan of Los Angeles; Nicole Brill of Reno, and Mike Boland of Rhome Texas.
After my brother got his private pilot certificate, I flew with him. On landing, he told me I was trying steer the aircraft with its ailerons instead of using the rudder to keep the nose lined up with the center line. Two hours with my brother, I had it down. No CFI ever told me anything. We'd just go fly, and I'd be frustrated, not quite understanding what or why doing this / that etc.
3. Where and what airplane did you fly first? What's a special memory from that experience?
I first flew out of the now closed Arrowhead airport in St. Louis. My dad hired a CFI to take us flying when we were kids. I still remember the year -- 1968. Later, I started learning to fly there in Grumman AA-5A Cheetahs and Grumman AA-5B Tigers. About 6 months later, the hanger burned down with all the aircraft in it. I then split my time flight training between St. Charles Flying Service at 3SQ airport in St. Charles, Mo., when I was home from college in summer, and Saj Aviation in LeRoy, N.Y., when I was in college at NTID. I started skydiving about this time, and I was always either out at dropzone in Ovid, N.Y., or at the airport taking flying lessons.
4. You lost your left arm in 1980. What happened? Was your hearing loss related to that accident?
I was about 3 years old. I came down with German measles and soon lost my hearing after that. I grew up deaf. I lost my arm in a dune buggy accident off road. We "blew the engine up" and were being towed back. I thought we had stopped and started to get out and then the truck towing me started going again, and my left arm got caught between the tire and frame.
5. You earned your private pilot certificate in November 1983. This is a corny question, but how did you feel? What went through your mind?
I knew I could do it. I knew I could safely fly an airplane. My student pilot certificate was signed off and my log book endorsed by my CFI for solo local flights and solo cross country flights, so I already had many hours flying alone. The FAA gave me my check ride, which I failed on first try, because on the oral part of the test he asked me a question on FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations) and I said I didn't know, so I was automatically failed. I should have told the FAA examiner, “I'm not sure, I'll look it up,” which would have been acceptable to him. But no one ever told me that. I learned that fact the hard way!
We scheduled another check ride two days later, and I passed the oral test and then the flight test itself. Having my private pilot certificate felt really good, because it was something I worked hard to get and invested a lot of money into doing so. It was a longtime goal of mine.
*6. What do you want to do with your skills in aviation?
I've got my FAA private pilot certificate and FAA Airframe & Powerplant mechanic certificate. I know many deaf people who want to fly, but communications between deaf and CFI are poor. Many deaf people have a hard time finding a CFI with time and patience to write everything down -- old pencil and paper method. They'd rather not waste their time so they can move on to the next student to make money.
I'd like to get sponsorships to get my Instrument and Commercial pilot ratings to become a CFI. I estimate this would cost me around $18,000. I'd love to do it myself, but after I make monthly car and house payments, pay utility bills, food, etc., I have no money left, so I'm looking into trying get sponsorships to obtain these ratings and limit my teaching to deaf /amputees. I would not charge any CFI Fees. I’d pay it forward in return for the sponsorship.
*Mike's already "paying it forward." Here's an example: When Mike e-mailed his responses to me Sunday night, Oct. 2, he mentioned that earlier that day, he’d put his Cessna 172 to good use, taking two young deaf women on their first flight. The deaf father of one had mentioned to Mike that his daughter would like to learn to fly, so Mike took her and her friend on a spin through the skies around Gainesville where he keeps his plane.
7. What would you/do you say to a disabled person who longs to fly but feels that's an impossible dream?
They can reach their dream. You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true.
Photos courtesy of Mike Boland.
What do you think of Mike, his achievements and ambitions? What else would you ask him? Your comments are welcome. Keep ’em clean and respectful, and I’ll publish them.