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Achieve Your Dreams of Flying while Keeping Your Day Job

News > Achieve Your Dreams of Flying while Keeping Your Day Job
Nick with his Piper Cherokee (N6371J) at Berlin Regional Airport (KBML), NH. Photo by Doug Stewart, October 2018. Photo courtesy of Nick Bernice.

Growing up a mile from New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport can certainly spark an interest in aviation in the mind of a young boy. Not only is Teterboro very busy, but the VOR on the field marks the beginning of the approaches for Newark Airport’s 22L and 22R. For 40 years, my family has watched all kinds of aircraft fly over our house. Summer and fall months even brought the distinct groan of the Goodyear and McDonald blimps (each had moorings at Teterboro) flying over our backyard on their way to film nearby baseball–Yankees and Mets–and football–Jets and Giants–games.

Becoming a pilot was always on the list of things I wanted to do “when I grew up.” After high school, I attempted to pursue a career in the Air Force, but when the recruiter told me I would not be able fly because I wore glasses, I walked out of the office feeling pretty defeated. Within a few months, I enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, where I later became a boat coxswain. While in the reserve, I went to Fordham University and graduated with a science degree. My Coast Guard and undergraduate experience helped me get a job as a high school science teacher. My reserve and teaching careers began to take off, and although I rose through the ranks in those fields, my aviation prospects remained grounded for another 20 years.

In the summer of 2017, while on my annual two-weeks of active duty in Yorktown, Virginia, I had a weekend off and decided not to drive home to New Jersey. That Friday, while at dinner, I searched “nearest flight school” on my phone. The first return result was Williamsburg Flight Center at KJGG. I pressed the dial icon. The phone rang and, to my surprise, the person who answered happened to be the owner of the flight school. I asked about the possibility of taking a first flight lesson sometime over the weekend. We agreed noon would work for both of us, and I hung up the phone and finished dinner.

CFI Mike Steinhardt (left) and Nick Bernice (right), after Nick’s first solo at Greenwood Lake Airport. Photo by Tim Wagner, October 2017. Photo courtesy of Nick Bernice.

I arrived promptly at Williamsburg Airport the next day. After 30 minutes of ground school, I could not believe I was climbing into the pilot’s seat of a Cessna 172. My flight instructor provided me with a standard first lesson: preflight, taxi, run-up, take-off, straight and level flight, turns, climbs, descents, and a landing. It was an incredible afternoon that was the realization of all my desires to fly for as long as I can remember. I went back a few days later for a second lesson and returned home with 2.1 hours in my logbook. I had been bitten by the aviation bug.

Back in New Jersey, where I work as a local school district superintendent, I began looking for flight schools. Sky Training at Greenwood Lake Airport (4N1) was convenient and less expensive than some of the other options in the New York/New Jersey area. It was there that I completed my training and met Tim Wagner, the owner, and Mike Steinhardt, my CFI through most of my private pilot training. The Gleim Private Pilot Online Ground School was also a critical component that ensured I passed my Knowledge Test.

Nick’s solo shirt hanging in the Lockheed Constellation Museum at Greenwood Lake Airport. Photo courtesy of Nick Bernice.

Instrument training was next, but I wanted to do it in my own aircraft. After months of searching, I found the perfect plane. Mike and I flew to Hagerstown, MD, on a windy morning with Rich Bartlett, also a CFI, in Rich’s C172. We picked up my 1968 Piper Cherokee 180D and flew it back to Sussex Airport (KFWN). I kept it there for a few weeks and flew with Rich until we were both comfortable and exceeded the insurance minimums for me to solo in the plane. Up until this point I had just over 100 flight hours, but all in C172s.

After completing the Gleim instrument pilot course, I passed the knowledge tests for Instrument and Instrument Ground Instructor.

Nick with CFI Kyle Botbyl after completing the Commercial Pilot Practical Test. Photo by Tim Wagner, April 2019. Photo courtesy of Nick Bernice.

Rich flew with me for most of my instrument training and I finished up with Doug Stewart of DSFI, Inc., at Columbia County Airport in New York. Doug and I flew a modified version of his two-day “’Narly New England” experience in my Cherokee. Doug is very well known for being an excellent instructor, and he made sure new lessons were learned on each and every leg of the trip. I recommend this type of experience to anyone looking to obtain an instrument rating.

Over the next few months, I flew my Piper Cherokee with friends and family, taking them for flights up the Hudson River Skyline Route, for lunch on Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Groton, and many other fun places to visit. The flying even benefited my Coast Guard Reserve work, as I can fly to meetings at locations all over the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions, including inside the Washington, DC, Flight Restricted Zone (DC FRZ), where I fly into Potomac Airport (KVKX) when I go to Coast Guard Headquarters.

At CAMI in Oklahoma City for CGAUX 18, which entails both spatial disorientation and hypoxia training. Photo courtesy of Nick Bernice.

In April 2019, I had well over 250 hours and trained at Sky Training at 4N1, this time with CFI Kyle Botbyl, to complete commercial pilot training. The Gleim courses prepared me to pass the knowledge tests for both Commercial Pilot and Advanced Ground Instructor. I took the commercial checkride at 1B1 with Doug Stewart in my Piper Cherokee. With its dual PFD/MFD Aspen displays and integrated STEC-50 autopilot, this 50-year-old plane is a technically advanced aircraft (TAA), and flying it counts towards the newly amended commercial requirements.

Inspired by Mike, Rich, Doug, and Kyle, I wanted to combine my professional teaching background and share my love for aviation with others and become a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). Working in both education and the reserve makes my schedule difficult. However, this summer afforded me some time to go to HOVA Flight School in Ashland, VA, and complete a “CFI Finish-up Course,” which Chief Pilot Joseph Vazquez prepared for me. Again, the reliable online preparation software from Gleim enabled me to pass the Flight Instructor–Airplane Knowledge Test before my arrival at HOVA.

Nick after completion of the CFI Spin Endorsement at North Palm Beach County Airport, FL (F45), Tailwheel Flyers of South Florida. Photo by David Jacobson, CFI, April 2019. Photo courtesy of Nick Bernice.

My aviation experience has been shaped by wonderful instructors – only some of them named here – and has been greatly enhanced with the Gleim products. In two short years, I have been able to scale the pilot ranks from zero time to Private, Instrument, and Commercial Pilot, and CFI. I recently passed the Flight Instructor Instrument Airplane Knowledge Test and have a checkride scheduled for mid-October. I have also obtained both Advanced and Instrument Ground Instructor certificates, all with the help of Gleim books, PDF outlines, and test preparation software. Thank you Gleim!


Written by Nick Bernice.

Special thanks to Nick Bernice for sharing his aviation journey with us and using Gleim Aviation to fulfill his dreams of becoming a pilot (and beyond)! A lifetime dreaming of aviation started with watching airplanes. Today we are releasing our new and improved Wonders of Aviation course. This free course is designed to introduce enthusiasts of all ages to aviation and what it offers. You can access the Wonders of Aviation course today or share it with others at this link.

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