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Ben Davison


Having been studying alphabet airspace and sectional charts for my up and coming FAA exam, I was reminded of someone who I connected with on Twitter a while back and who has been apart of my Twitter aviation family ever since.  This outstanding pilot, successful blogger, and fellow Mid-Westerner cleared me into his Class-B airspace for a few minutes so I could enter the world of "Airplanology"  Please help me welcome


Welcome to the flight deck, Ben!

I remember the day on Twitter you announced your site was no longer titled "Flying With Ben" and that you wanted a new identity.  Could you tell us what made you decide to blog in the first place and a little bit about this change? 

From the beginning I've been a blogging person. I ran a very successful respiratory therapy blog that had to be taken down for legal reasons, and when I re-discovered my inner aviator I decided to write about it.

Initially I was "Fly with Ben" and I updated maybe once every few weeks. I had a passion for aviation, but I had a lot of other stuff going on...and so it sort of took a back seat. 

Then I went to Oshkosh and it changed my life. I've been to airshows, I've seen the planes and the aerobatics. But Oshkosh is more than that. It made me realize exactly how much I love this flying stuff. There is something magic about flying and aviation, and while it can be fashionable in some sets to be burned out or blase or cool about flying, I've decided that I really prefer to be a huge AvGeek and let it be known to all and sundry that this - aviation - is what my life's all about.

 "I *love* to fly, and I *love* airplanes, and not ashamed." 

A view Ben and I know quite well.  The Chicago skyline over Lake Michigan.

So with that spirit in mind, I began to blog more, write more. As part of that change I came up with the Airplanology name, and gradually began trying to generate more and better content. It's been a struggle to do as much as I'd like as I've been busy with CTI school. But there should be much more to come for Airplanology, and I'm hoping to grow it substantially in the years to come.

I love how the trip to Oshkosh changed your life and your outlook.  It is definitely the quintessential aviation event of a lifetime no matter how many times a person participates.  It doesn't surprise me that this event inspired you to let the world know your love for aviation and to present better website content no matter the challenges.  Being that you just expressed your love for aviation, how did aviation first enter your life?

Aviation's always been an interest of mine. It also runs in the family. One of my grandfathers flew C-46's over "the hump" in India in WWII, plus some C-47 and B-26 time, and talking to him was always inspiring. My father was a long-term student pilot but due to some issues with substance abuse he never did get his license. 

When I was a kid I'd stop and look up whenever I heard airplanes, because it just seemed amazing to me that people could get into a small plane and fly wherever they wanted. I used to read old copies of Flying magazine and AOPA Pilot that my Dad had. 

I also used to be able to bike to KLEW, and I'd sit and watch the planes through the fence. One time some old WWII Warbirds came and I went and gawked at them all day. There's something special about the mix of aluminum, rivets and avgas that's hard to explain.

I wanted to go to college and be a 747 captain. I even took some flying lessons and got about 15 hours. But right when I was going to go to college 9/11 happened. It was a bad time for America and a bad time for the aviation industry, and so I took the pragmatic path and went into a career as a respiratory therapist and sort of left aviation behind me. 

Then one day, I was sitting on my porch in Florida, bored and wondering what to do, when a formation of planes roared over the house. Turns out I lived under the approach path to Sun n Fun. After a few batches of inbounds passed over me, I jumped in the car and drove to the airport. I got there just in time to see Matt Younkin's twin beech looping and roaring in the air. It gave me goosebumps,

"and it woke me up: what the hell was I doing with my life? I should be doing THAT." 

After that moment I decided to go back to it. 
I found a CFI and on October 16, 2010 I got my PPL. 

Ben, I am a very firm believer in the term, "from the heavens" - that everything is not by chance and happens for a reason.  Even though 9/11 happened and you but the plans on hold, that moment when those planes flying above your head was definitely as sign for you at the time and I am glad that it was what you needed to finish the PPL.  This also leads me to ask you at what other factors led you to say to yourself, "I'm becoming a pilot!"?

Deciding to become a pilot encouraged me to take a more active role in my life. I'd been sort of drifting along before, not particularly thrilled with my work or most of the rest of my life. Learning to fly has taught me to take control of my destiny instead of just riding along.

"Life is short; 
                      find your happy 
and go for it." 

In The Mountains with Oshkosh on mind.

Learning to be a pilot has also made me a better thinker. Good pilots are always a step ahead, planning, thinking, analyzing. These are all skills that work well in the non-aviation world too. 

Yes, those are definite qualities of an excellent pilot. Especially in the non-av world.  What are some of your most memorable moments so far as a pilot?

One of my most memorable moments was landing alongside some warbirds at KLAL. They were already on the ground when I arrived, but I got to park next to a P-51D, a B-17, and a B-24. I literally walked from my airplane into the B-17...a pretty cool moment for me. 

Also at KLAL, I got to fly pattern work with a USCG C-130. Being in a C-150 and sharing a pattern with a C-130 is an interesting experience, to say the least.

Nice!  I have a special love affair with the bombers.. especially the B-25, -29, and especially the -52.  All plane awesome.  I am also proud to say that I know a C-130 pilot as well.  A truly remarkable individual.  Which would you say would be your aviation loves?

With the Beaver
My favorite airplane overall, in terms of what I'd like to get out of general aviation, is probably the Lake LA-4. Amphibians are just "plane" cool, and the Lake seems to be an exceptionally capable and well-designed machine. Flying boats are (IMO) superior to floatplanes...the LA-4 looks good on a ramp or on a beach, it's got a decent carrying capacity, and it's just sort of cool. If I ever have a spare $80k I'll buy myself one. I also like the Republic RC-3 Sea Bee, though the 'Bee seems a little clunkier than the LA-4.  

Ah!  I see we both have more in common.  I love water/float planes.  I long to fly in one.  Being that you decided to become a pilot, what eventually lead you to want to keep the skies in order through ATC?

I came to ATC through a sort of long process. As I mentioned, I wanted to be a commercial airline pilot as a young child. And when I started my flying lessons, I still wanted to do that. When I spoke at length with my CFI about it, he actually discouraged me from getting into commercial flying: "It's one thing to go fly for fun because you love it, but it's another thing altogether to have to get up and fly all day even if you feel like crap." His experiences as a regional airline captain didn't sound like the sort of work I wanted to do, and I could see myself becoming one of those blasé and jaded pilots. I love this stuff way too much to let that happen, so I began exploring other options.

I hear the words of your CFI, and I can relate to it as I was in college as a music performance major to begin with and the hours where so intense and draining that it took something that I completely loved to do and burned me totally out of it.  One really has to have that passion to fly revenue under those conditions: fatigue, sickness, etc.  CFIs are not only there to teach us but also to guide us for our best interests in every way possible.  What was the final deciding factor for ATC?

ATC came to me in Atlanta, watching the planes land at KATL. Seeing the precise spacing of the airliners in 3-mile intervals, watching the flow on and off the runways, I realized what an amazing feat of infrastructure our ATC system is, and I wanted in. The ATC system is amazingly complex and it works amazingly well, increasingly so considering the aging technology and workforce that it is based on. I did some research and discovered that, if I went to college pretty quickly, I could graduate with two years time to get hired*. 

I like your mindset with that.  Even with guys like myself who coming in later in the game, and are looking for a career change love to have an evil twin that says, "It's just too late to become a revenue pilot."  The truth is, if one does the math, even for ATC, it isn't too late if you get in the game in the nick of time instead of wasting it.  Speaking of this time, what's the outlook for you and the future?

I graduate on May 18th and I have 25 months from that day before I am 'too old' to be hired as a controller. I'm cautiously optimistic that it will happen. 

I'm hoping to get hired as a controller in the near future, ideally at a mid-size Class C airport or a busier Class D. I'd like to be at a facility where I can work tower and radar, and then as I grow as a controller I can move in whatever direction seems best for me. I'd like to pursue more ratings on the side, and eventually get my IFR, commercial, and CFI. Aviation is a huge industry and I want to sample a little bit of everything: fixed wing, multi engine, seaplanes, gliders, helicopters, jets, IFR and name it and I want to do it. 

I'm hoping to begin construction on a Sonex once I finish my bachelor's degree, sometime in the next two to four years. 

Awesome!  I think this is fantastic and also that you are also looking to expand into IFR, Multi-Engine as I know of other ATC graduates who have a these backgrounds as well.  I wish you well on your Sonex construction and getting your bachelors.  Speaking of well wishes, I hear a congratulations is in order?  Please tell us..

I recently scored a 92.5 on the Air Traffic Selection and Training (ATSAT) exam, which places me in the "well qualified" applicant pool. Assuming that congress doesn't completely gut our infrastructure soon, I have a good chance of being hired before June 2015, when I'm suddenly too old to be hired. 

* The FAA will not hire controllers ab initio if they're older than 31. This is because (a) it takes a long time, sometimes up to four or five years, to fully certify a controller; and (b) the FAA has mandatory retirement at 56 years of age for line controllers, so hiring anyone over 31 means they have less than 25 years available to serve.

Interesting!  I thought becoming a pilot had its challenges.  Even more for a controller.  Thank you for sharing this information.  Would you like to share any recommendations for future pilots and/or our industry at large?

General advice, for pilots and non pilots: DON'T PANIC. The "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" says that this is the best advice out there, and it's correct. Don't panic, fly the airplane, stay a few minutes ahead of yourself, and life will be good. 

St. Pete
Advice to the industry: Tap into the magic. Flying is cool. It will always be cool. The fact that you can move thousands of pounds of stuff from one narrow concrete strip to another one thousands of miles away, with incredible precision and safety, thousands of times a day, is incredible. 

Also, educate the public. Treat passengers like people, not like cattle. And get some good PR. Talk to local news media, local politicians. Just be good. Be more Southwest and less Continental.

Advice to future pilots: Follow your heart. Don't do what I did and go into an industry you're really ambivalent about just because it's more lucrative or more pragmatic. I'd gladly give back my decade as a respiratory therapist for a decade as a CFI. I might have had less money, but I think it would have made me a lot happier, and in the long run that's all you've got. 

And advice to pilots, for dealing with ATC: Be respectful, be brief, and LISTEN. Attitude or ineptitude will make you "number last for landing," and failure to listen will make you look like a goober.

Thompson Lake, Maine

In a larger sense, I'd like to share my love of aviation with the world at large. More people need to see aviation as the triumph of engineering and human spirit that it is. We need to counter the public perception that flying is either (a) a bus with wings, or (b) reserved for wealthy robber barons. Flying is something that can inspire people and help them to grow as human beings and we need to maximize that potential. If I can spread the love of flying to a few other people, or keep my fellow pilots from burning out, I'll feel like I've accomplished something. 

Ben, I agree.  Aviation does need that better image.  Especially for those who are thinking of becoming pilots.  We don't need the negative attitude fed to them that pilots are nothing other than flying bus drivers and that it's not worth it.  For those to realize that there are those who bust their chops working to earn the money to learn to fly instead of having it handed down.

Mostly, thank you for helping spread the love of flying by clearing everyone and I to come into your airspace and to hear your story.  Thank you for your wealth of information and passion for what you do.  I am really looking forward not only hearing great outcomes in your future but also looking forward to fly with you when I am on one of my extended Chicago layovers for Grand Rapids, Michigan.

For everyone, Ben can be followed through the following:


Last and certainly not least, his 

Always spreading the passion,


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