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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Steve Thorne

Friday's Fabulous Flyer

I'm Steve, and I'm a private pilot who loves to share flying with everyone and anyone that is even remotely interested! I recently started a YouTube channel to allow my "aviation ambassadorship" to reach wider than ever....

My motto:

 "Flying for Fun. Striving for professionalism"

although it is really more like... 

"Learning from the small mistakes, 
to avoid making big ones"

My journey into aviation is not a dramatic one; But it's a quest that I've been on for my whole life. It's a story of a dream dreamt and realized, followed by a mission to share it. My earliest memories involve looking up at birds and airplanes, knowing with perfect clarity that I wanted to fly.

As a young boy I was fascinated with hawks - red tailed hawks to be specific. I spent many an afternoon studying photos and drawing hawks in flight. (art was also a passion) Then it was model airplanes (the little balsa wood flying kind - I was not interested in scale models that couldn't fly).

I'm not sure at what age the stories of my grandfather flying Spitfires in world war 2 began to have an imprint on me, but I'm pretty sure I wanted to fly before I knew that. Anyway, it obviously plays a role on some level… if only genetic?

But I didn't know my grandfather well, and he died before I was old enough to have gleaned any wisdom from him.

Into my school years, I never had an aviation mentor, or even knew anyone that could fly. It pained me each time a friend or acquaintance casually mentioned having an uncle or family friend with a plane - I couldn't understand how they would mention it off hand; as you would describe a tree on your lawn; just a fact, not worth examining further or availing themselves of the amazing opportunity. If it were me, I'd have been all over it!
And so it went, I continued to independently develop my dream with a quiet determination. My mom saw it in me and got me a ride in a small plane over Toronto some time when I was 7 or 8 years old… and as much as I remember it being amazing, I also have a distinct memory of feeling that it was fleeting… I knew it was "a one off" - there weren't the resources to allow me to pursue it in a real way and do the training - even as a young boy I understood that.

It is important to note at this point that my ambitions were not to be a commercial pilot - I knew it was simply flying for the sake of flying that I wanted to do - having a job in aviation was never a part of the deal.

As a 12 year old (in 1986) I sent away for the info via snail male from a local flying school, I have very clear memories of waiting for what seemed like weeks to get that thick envelope. Strangely, I remember the details of that brown package and the photos on the brochures more clearly than I remember my first airplane ride.

It is as if this pile of papers was more real then the actual sight seeing flight had been, because I knew this was a real gateway to ME actually getting MY pilot license. I studied the info and remember a sense of urgency as I tried to assimilate and boil down the details to get to the bottom line - when can I start, how long will it take and much will it cost!

My heart sank when I saw that the answers; I couldn't solo until I was 17 (or was it 16? it doesn't matter, waiting 4 years to a 12 year old seemed like forever) and that it would cost over $3000, an insurmountable sum to a kid (yes, in 1986, in Canada, the cost to get the PPL was that low!) Anyway - despite the bitter sweet nature of the package to my 12 year old self, it was carefully filed, and I still have it to this day.

That year I did my grade 7 science fair project on Bernoulli's principle and took top honors. 1st place and 3rd in Regionals. 

I also earned the nickname Bernoulli (kid's aren't always creative) through my middle school years (which I wore with pride).

A couple years went by and then I heard that joining Air Cadets was a way to get the training paid for! I was IN… until I realized the military and my personality doesn't jive. I didn't excel at the military aspect of cadets, and I realized I didn't stand a chance at being one of the top few that get the flight training scholarship, so I quit… defeated but undeterred I pressed on.

Soon after, I got my first part time job and saw that $3000 wasn't an impossibly huge number after all!
By then I was 16 (it was 1990) - so close to being able to solo! But I was also the holder of a fresh driver's license… The abstract and difficult goal of initiating and completing flight training lost out to the immediately accessible instant gratification of getting my own car - also happening to be attainable for $3000.  So my flying dream was delayed again by a used 1985 VW Scirocco.

High school ended, and the University era began - I was going to film school; following my artist ambitions…

My girlfriend at the time knew of my flying dream and surprised me with an intro flight at the start of the summer between 1st and 2nd year… This time, I was more wise than my 7 year old self. I was 20, and saw it not as a "sight seeing" flight, but as my first real training flight. I took it seriously. I picked the instructor's brain before the flight, and spent very little time looking out while we flew…
I was more interested in the Cock-pit and studying everything he was doing - I CAN do this, I was thinking to myself.. and I WIL do this. 

I got home and began researching options to get started (beyond just blindly starting out at the flight school I'd just done the intro flight at). In those days (1994) the Internet was barely in existence - it was actually a local dial-up bulletin board that was my first invaluable aviation resource. It was called "the pilot's lounge", and I made a simple open plea to the members, explaining that I was looking for any and all tips on how to get started training.

I got a great reply from Norm a retired gentleman, who became my first and most pivotal flying mentor.  (we are still friends to this day, and have done some amazing flying together, but I digress). I followed Norm's advice, got connected with a local gliding club and spent every weekend that summer gliding.

I soloed in minimal time. 


Shortly there after I did a solo flight climbing to over 5000' from a 2000' tow, staying up for over an hour, only forcing the old Schweizer 2-33 down for bladder related reasons (I got a pin from the club for that flight - bronze medal? can't remember)

The following weekend conditions were similar and I expected to be able to repeat the performance; however, after 20 minutes of desperately maintaining 1500' AGL hopping from cumulus to cumulus but failing to climb, it was clear the thermals were not as strong, and I found myself a few miles away from the field. 

Fear subsided when I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to make it back, and I felt a calm coolness come over me as I reverted to my training and executed the "land out / forced approach" procedure. It went perfectly and may have been my best landing ever.

All was safe and despite some teasing from the club members, the tow pilot made it clear he was proud of me for landing safely, and picking a field so good that he was able to fly the tow plane in (with another pilot) to fly the stranded glider out.So it was only a slightly shaken me, and not the glider with the wings disassembled, that the club truck needed to pick up

- Thus I was spared the usual punishment of having to buy everyone beer to pay for the labour of disassembling and then re assembling the ship.

I didn't know him well, and have since lost touch, but Marion, the club chief tow pilot was an idol of sorts to me. He was also a crop duster pilot and watching him fly that Bellanca Citabria was like watching an artist at work; I knew I wanted to fly a tail dragger… 

As that summer ended, and 2nd year university started up, I had the info I needed, and had gained the flying fundamentals from my gliding experience. I started powered flight training, and considered it like a part of my university course load in terms of cost and homework delegation. I put myself under great pressure to get done in minimums for financial reasons - not something I recommend, but it worked for me none the less.

I soloed in an old Cessna 150 on hour 9, and flew my flight test on hour 41. 

I needed to burn an hour in the circuit to get to hour 45 before I could take my first passenger! It was a stressful process doing the training in minimums, and I can't say I enjoyed it as much as I should have… There was a great deal of energy put into being sure my instructor was constantly impressed, so I'd be sure he would sign me off in minimums at every stage.

My flight test was scheduled for the morning, but wind was high… The examiner was local and happily pushed the booking to the afternoon. I was a bag of nerves and hadn't eaten breakfast, and knew I couldn't eat lunch before the test! It was an amazing feat to pass that check ride while fighting to stay conscious while suffering through a three hour hypoglycemic attack!

I have a distinct memory of sitting down to a burger at a road side diner on the way home from the airport…
There on the table sat my fresh newly signed off temp PPL, beside an amazing home cooked burger that seemed like a good idea when I ordered it, but now it was clear my beyond empty stomach was not sure about it. It dawned on me then with great clarity, that I had just achieved the greatest feat of my young life (it was early 1996 and I was 22) and I was having a "now what?" moment.

I had made a few young flying friends while training. Shortly after getting licensed, three of us took an old 172 from Southern Ontario Canada, to Ft. Lauderdale FL. for a week.

We had friends to stay with down there, but barely had the money to afford the plane rental let alone trip expenses. None the less, off we went with a jar of peanut butter and some bread hoping we could do the ~10 hour (one way) flight over a couple days.

We swapped seats as we flew the legs and naturally had to make many diversions for weather, and spent a couple un-planned nights sleeping in the plane on the ramp on a random small airport with no facilities…

But that trip was an incredible experience and really solidified much of the training for me. We were very proud of this photo of the three of us with our Canadian plane in front of FL Palm trees.

Norm was always happy to join us for adventures, and rode along when a buddy and I took that same 172 to Oshkosh for Air Venture '98. Again, it was a great experience, and nearly as epic as the Florida flight.

Oshkosh was amazing! 
Sensory overload for a young pilot!

I didn't know who he was when I saw Bob Hoover do his incredible routine in the Shrike Commander, but I never forgot that performance, and learned all I could about Bob Hoover after that.
His book "Forever Flying" is a must read for pilots and aviation enthusiasts…

I also had a great opportunity to spend a month on the Island of Maui for a photography job. I made sure to get my ducks in order to have an FAA licensed issued before I departed, so I'd be able to rent a plane down there.

On a day off, I took a couple co-workers up for a flight around the surrounding islands - it was amazing! Being able to do that flight really exemplified why I got my license in the first place!

Years past and I maintained "weekend warrior" private pilot currency.  I got checked out on a couple types including the PA-28 and a DA20.

It was apparent that flying multiple types was great for improving my over all fundamentals. When times were tight, that meant flying a measly 0.5 per month, but I kept at it.

Inspired by Norm (and my childhood memories of wishing I had a "flying mentor") I do my best to introduce as many people to flying as I can. 

My log book is full of many "1st rides" and I've taken great pride in letting many happy kids take control for the first time. 

In 2003 I met Jill. I barely maintained monthly currency while I was distracted with building our relationship, and never ended up taking her flying during those early years. Then in 2005 things really got serious, and we bought a house, got married and had a baby with in a couple years. I had my biggest non-flying period that lasted nearly 4 years! Life was amazing, but I felt a core part of myself was atrophying… 

Steve and Jill

Our daughter Evelyn was a year old, and Jill supported me as I got a pile of re-currency training and revived my flying muscles in 2009.

Jill and Evy

I'm happy to say that since 2009 I've done more flying than ever!

I have checked out on several new types, started IFR training "for fun" as well as the obvious added safety buffer, and am finally doing my tail wheel conversion training! What an awesome adventure starting to fly an old Piper Super Cub!

The biggest take away from that first tail dragger flight for me, is how amazingly comfortable I was with the controls.

I hadn't flown a glider since '95, yet I felt at home with my left hand up there on the throttle (same exact place as the the "spoiler" control in a glider, which essentially works the same - pulling back ADDs spoilers, which reduces lift, basically the same as pulling back on the throttle.) and the center stick was in the same spot, so it felt natural to rest my forearm on my thy even before the instructor explained that was how you do it.

Honestly, flying a Cessna right seat felt much more awkward the few times I've done it. I was impressed that I could basically fly the cub first crack.  Like could I fly it to save my life? Yes; But would it be pretty? No. It is really weird to taxi, and those heel brakes are very unnatural to work with. I can't wait to build more tail dragger time - it really brings me back full circle to those summer weekends when I started nearly 20 years ago!

I took Jill for her first ride recently (it's along story, but after having Evy, I felt a heaviness related to risking orphaning her - despite the fact that the logical part of me knows that GA flying is not as scary as getting onto the highway for a drive these days)

Jill's First Flight

Future goals include finding the time to get back into gliding, and to volunteer as a tow pilot! I'd also love to fly warbirds - a process that I started at the "Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association" years ago, and I hope to get back there.

It's 2013 and I'm 39 now; it seems crazy that I've been flying for over 18 years.
It doesn't get old - I still love it.

I am driven to stay in good health for my daughter, but in the back of my mind, it is also so that I can fly for as long as possible :)

Steve Videos:
It has been rewarding to make flying videos, sharing my experiences while maintaining currency as a private pilot. Most of my videos are some what self deprecating as I publicly share my little errors and analyze them in an effort to grow and improve.

As of now I have over a dozen videos and I plan to continue to make a video per week as long as I can.  If I had to use some of my current videos to best say who I am, and why I fly, it would be those attached. 

The following video is my self assessment and lessons learned. Hopefully they will help you too."

Thank You Steve for sharing your incredible story. You are an inspiration to me and to all those you take for that first flight. 
For everyone else...
If you haven't watched the videos... you must! 

Jill's first flight brought tears to my eyes! Reed's enthusiasm spoke volumes. I'm now inspired to get my tail dragger endorsement. And the unintentional test was a great lesson. Steve's are some of the best videos I've seen and there is something for everyone. 
Which is your favorite? 

For more great videos check out: FLIGHT CHOPS
And follow Steve on Twitter @Schteevie

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene


  1. On the contrary Steve, a life quest is always dramatic, and yours is a great story! ;) Thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. Heather, you are so right... a dramatic quest for sure! Thank you so much for your comment!

  2. Yes, I suppose drama is all about perspective.
    I am very happy to have lived my flying adventure thus far and plan to continue to "live the dream" as long as I can.
    I am thankful to Karlene for both inviting me to share, and in doing so, inspiring me to relive the adventures while writing the stories and digging up the old photos. I look forward to doing the same in the next 20 years, when I look back again!

    1. Steve, you are living the dream and it's awesome. I still am amazed by your videos. Your wife's tears are so touching. And the little boys excitement... you sparked that. And then your lesson learned. Seriously you could do training videos and they would be a huge success! Keep up the great work!

  3. Steve,
    Congrats on sticking with your dream! Many would love to have your experiences and they will probably never take that first step that you took almost two decades ago. Good luck on the TW checkout and your instrument rating.

    1. Brent, Thank you so much for the comment. I think that's what it's all about... sticking with that dream. You can tell how much he loves it. Another inspiring general aviation pilot!

  4. What a great story Steve! I love how you wrote some about your time in the SGS-2-33. I took my first ever glider lesson over Lake Tahoe in one, last summer. You can read about it on my site, "From Private to Professional Pilot."

    I love how you turned your love of aviation into something that you can share with others who show an interest, I really admire you for that. I just can't wait to get my PPL in a few months when I turn 17! (I know that feeling by the way, having to wait for so longgg)

    Thanks again for an awesome post!
    -Swayne Martin

    1. Thanks for the comment Swayne. Also Steve does great video work, as you do. I think the two of you could put something awesome together. It's all about the team. Amazing what two talents can do together.

  5. Alright - I'm not as tired as I was last night - and I set up a "blogger profile" so I can reply properly :P I need to work on my social networking management… I started "Flight Chops" on YouTube without really thinking about the additional networking I should do - but the online aviation community has been amazing, and I think I'll take a more serious go at connecting more efficiently. I might even finally get on FaceBook :P
    Anyway - I'm checking Swayne's blog now...

    1. Thanks Steve! That's great. I know he will appreciate it. He's a great young man.

  6. What a great piece about a great pilot. I am glad that Steve had the opportunity to take a job in Maui as a photographer - the real reasons why we get our licenses. I have come to learn over the years that the best pilots make the best photographers and artists. Now I know the secret why ;) Keep flying higher and higher! (Especially with the awesome photos!)

    Have a great week ahead everyone..

    1. Jeremy, better late than never! Thank you for your always!!!

  7. Nice story, thanks for sharing.
    I know I've found your videos to be incredibly helpful and your emails about mine to be incredibly supportive.

    Keep the videos coming. I love the fact that you are so candid about what was good and what wasn't so good. It makes them a really valuable learning tool.

    1. Thank you so much for the comment! I enjoy his videos too!

  8. Buddy! How the hell are you? I'm not sure if my last comment went through so I'm sending another one. I've looked for you for a few years now! Wasn't sure how you spell your name so it became difficult! You have to remember me it's John! Went to high school together for a couple of years and you're the only friend I had! Give me a call so we can catch up! 226-208-1931

    1. John, I will tell Steve to Check out your message!!

    2. Thank you very much I would appreciate that. He was the only true friend I had in high school and I haven't seen him or heard from him since after leaving high school early so I would love to catch up with him.

  9. How often does the crew of people at the Windsor Flying club work on the RV14 kit? Every weekend? Are visitors Ok? I would like to take my daughter and ride our motorcycles over from Sterling Heights and see the work they are doing. On a Saturday with good weather.

    1. Skypilot, Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure if Steve will receive this message because this post is 6 years old. Maybe you can reach out to him on Twitter. Thanks!

  10. Hi Karlene,
    Thank you for writing such an expansive and in-depth article! As a fan of FlightChops, I wanted to learn more about how he got started. Thank you, I really enjoyed reading your work!

    1. You should reach out to him. I'm sure he'll share his story.


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