|Perspectives: Capt. Mike Daftarian, USAF|
|Written by Mike Daftarian|
My path to where I'm at in aviation has been an odd one, and to many people, would be considered somewhat backwards. I started out like most everyone here wanting to fly planes since being a kid. My dad owned a C-182, and would take me and my family flying to places all around Arizona from Phoenix, where the plane was based. Everything from going to scenic Sedona for breakfast to Mesa-Falcon to visit old aircraft was what I did at least every other weekend. At age 16, I began training for my Private-ASEL at a local FBO at Phoenix-Sky Harbor airport. Flying C-152s and C-172s, I got my first taste of flying solo and being able to feel the freedom of flight. It was real nice to be able to train in the high-density environment of PHX, and following 40-odd hours of training, earned my Private ticket in 1987.
In late 1989, I applied to attend Embry-Riddle at Prescott, Arizona in their Aeronautical Science program. That's where I ended up becoming the roommate of Doug Taylor. The Aeronautical Science program was a non-technical program of aviation-based classes leading to a Bachelors of Science. Throughout my 4 years at ERAU, in addition to the academic curriculum, of AS, I completed my pilot certificates beginning with PVT-AMEL, and finishing with Commercial-ASMEL with instrument rating and CFI/I. The flight program at ERAU consisted of flight time in 180hp Cessna 172s, all multi-training in Piper PA-44-180 Seminoles, and the CFI training performed in the Cessna TR-182RG. I left ERAU in 1993 with a Commercial-ASMEL-I and CFI/I, AGI/IGI, and entered the world of trying to find an aviation job. With only about 390 TT and the airlines not hiring, I went into the aviation world in the "early '90s downturn".
Airlines weren't hiring due the glut of pilots from the closings of Eastern and Pan Am, causing a backlog in the whole "move up" of those in the industry. I returned to PHX and began to put out resumes for CFI employment. This was before PHX became the large training ground it is now with flight academies on almost every corner. I applied for everything from CFI work at greater-PHX/TUS airports, to skydive flying in Eloy, Tucson, and Buckeye, to aircraft ferry jobs for light aircraft at Scottsdale. In the mean time, I took a job as a line service person at Corporate Jets FBO located at Scottsdale Airport. This way, I could be around aircraft, keep an income going, and hopefully network, network, network. I fueled aircraft, towed aircraft, helped with the A&Ps working on the aircraft, and got to experience many different GA aircraft, primarily corporate. It was with this job that the networking finally paid off.
One of CJs fuel customers was a company at SDL that flew traffic watch in C-172s for numerous radio stations in the PHX valley. They had an opening for a part-time pilot and I applied. Being from PHX helped in that I was not only familiar with the area ATC/airport-wise, but also knew most all the primary and secondary streets in the area from the air. So I started my first flying job in mid 1993. The job was split-shifts from 5 to 8:30 in the morning, and 4 to 6:30 in the evening, corresponding to the city rush hour. On average, I logged about 5.5 hours/day. It was simple single-engine time, but it was total time in the logbook that I was getting paid for, with a fair amount of night time, and the occasional IMC. I quickly moved up to full-time and was able to fly every day of the week, accruing hours quickly. In about one year, I had over 1300 TT and networking again came my way.
I knew a number of pilots in the valley primarily from hearing them on the radio. Flying in the PHX airspace every morning and afternoon, I'd hear
various aircraft departing/arriving and transiting the PHX area. I decided to put out resumes again in the desire to move up in the aviation world. While distributing resumes, many of the places I dropped them off at recognized me not by name, but by call-sign (N-number), having heard my aircraft in the area every day; so in a sense, many of the pilots "knew" me from hearing me operating around PHX. This helped me get my first 14 CFR 135 job with a company based at Chandler, AZ. Air CSI (later US Delivery, later Corporate Express) flew Cessna 206/207, Piper PA-32-300/32R-301 Cherokee/Lance, and PA-31-350 Chieftain aircraft hauling cargo all over the state of Arizona.
From bank bags to medicine to small package express, I started out dual-qualified in the PA-32 and 206/207 aircraft flying Chandler to Lake Havasu/Parker, CHD to Safford, CHD to
Yuma, and CHD to Flagstaff runs. Flights went out in the morning, you stayed at the outstation for the day while cargo was distributed, and flew back in the evening when cargo had to return to the main hub of PHX. Average hours logged per day were anywhere from 3.0 to the Tucson-Ft Huachuca-Bisbee-Douglas run (which I ended up on for the last 7 months of my
employment) which netted a 4.5 per day. The job not only opened the door to the 135 cargo world, but was a great opportunity to get some good total time, night time, cross-country, actual instrument, and multi-engine time once I moved up into the Chieftain; eventually ending up in me reaching @3500 TT. Additionally, flying into the same airports as the UPS feeder aircraft flown by PM Air/Scenic Cargo, the numerous cargo aircraft of Ameriflight, and the FEDEX Caravans flown by Empire Airlines, there was an unequaled opportunity to get to know these pilots and again, network, network. Networking, once again, paid off.
One of the pilots I knew at Scenic Air Cargo that flew the same routes I did, hand-carried a resume in for me when an opening came up in his company. In addition to having the resume hand-carried, it helped that I flew the same routes of the company's aircraft, and was already 135 current and qualified. Scenic Air Cargo (formerly PM Air) was owned by Skywest Airlines and based out of PHX Sky Harbor airport. The pilots received a paycheck from Skywest Airlines, but the aircraft operated under the Scenic Airlines banner, though they weren't involved in any way with the tour operations out of Las Vegas.
The fleet consisted of 6 Piper PA-31-350 Chieftains, and 3 Cessna 208 Grand Caravans flying both UPS and Airborne Express cargo out of the PHX hub to points all over Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and southern California. The job was great since I was dual qualified in both aircraft, and either logged multi-engine or turbine, as well as night/actual/cross-country, and for the next 2 years really got good-quality flight time under the belt. Additionally, I finally had the money to o out and get my ATP, so I accomplished that too. It was the best job to build up time for moving to the commuters (what regionals were known as back then). Many of our pilots were hired into
Skywest passenger-side when they had openings, but in Sept 1997, a strike at UPS resulted in our pilot ranks at cargo being reduced, and I faced my first furlough. I already had my resumes out to American Eagle and other commuters, and spent the next 5 months on my fall-back job of firefighting, which helped pay the bills. Note to all: In aviation, ALWAYS have a fall back job/qualification of some sort. Aviation is so fluid, one day the wave could be getting big, but eventually it'll crest and break. If you're on the wave as it breaks, you'll be going down, and a good fall back position will help keep the income flowing. As a current and qualified firefighter, I was able to keep the bills paid while I kept the aviation search going.
The past few years, I had put in applications for USAF Officer Training School for the position of pilot only. At Embry-Riddle, I'd been in AFROTC during the late '80s/early '90s reduction-of-force of the US military. I didn't receive the job I'd wanted, so I decided to pursue the civilian world of aviation, yet keep trying for the military while I was still eligible age-wise. 5 months after leaving my last job, the USAF notified me that I'd been accepted for OTS for the position of pilot. I attended OTS at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, attended USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laughlin AFB, Texas flying Cessna T-37 and Northrop T-38 Talon trainers, and my class standing allowed me to receive my first choice of the A-10
Warthog attack aircraft. I'd always wanted to fly A-10s, since I like the aircraft, and the assignment would take me to Tucson, Arizona for training. Following UPT, I completed Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals at Randolph AFB, Texas, then went to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona for 3 months of A-10 initial training. Following DM, I took my first assignment to Osan AB, South Korea for 13 months, then returned to DM, flying A-10s in Arizona for the next 3 years. In that time, I've had the opportunity to fly all over the world, from Afghanistan to Italy to Korea, across both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, to Kuwait, Pakistan, and Iraq. As of this writing, I have approximately 45 days left in the A-10, as I leave this aircraft for assignment to the F-117A Nighthawk Stealth fighter based at Holloman AFB, New Mexico.
I chose to write this Perspectives column in order to emphasize a few truths about the aviation world: Desire, motivation, perseverance, and NETWORKING, will allow you
to get to where you want to go in the business of aviation. This holds true whether your desire is the airlines, the military, corporate, other government, agricultural, etc. There's so many different way to get to where you want to go in this business, not just one. It won't be easy, it'll be tough at times, but if you can stick it out, you'll get to where you want to be, or at least darn close to it. I've been lucky so far since I'm a "locations" guy; that is, I desire to stay around my home state of Arizona, or the southwest US. Every one of my aviation jobs has kept me in Arizona, with the exception of Texas for USAF pilot training, 1 year in Korea for an assignment, and having to move to New Mexico, which is OK since it's in the southwest and only 5.5 hours from my house in the extreme south of the PHX metro area. But my point is, I got to where I am, albeit somewhat "backwards" being civilian to military, and so can you.