KENAI — There’s a moment every aviation student is ready to fly solo.
That’s the moment Dean Eichholz likes best.
“Normally, I just have them taxi over to the side, or in front of a school... you get out of the airplane and sign their logbooks and tell them to go off and do some takeoff and landings on their own,” Eichholz said. “So you don’t warn them in advance ... one day they’re ready and they go and do it and come back before they even think about (being) out there on their own.”
Those moments, and many others in the Sterling man’s decades-long flight training career has led him all over the country as both a Navy and private pilot instructor, from Florida to Alaska and finally to being named the 2013 National Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year. The award is given in a partnership between the Federal Aviation Administration and General Aviation Awards, which represents the flying industry.
“I was very surprised,” he said. “I’m still very surprised.”
In August, Eichholz and his wife will be flown to the Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisc. for an aviation celebration, “AirVenture,” that draws more than 500,000 people a year to fly together, check out aircraft and mingle at the largest aviation gathering in the United States.
“It’s kind of like sending them to Disney World,” said JoAnn Hill, General Aviation Awards program committee co-chair. “It’s just huge ... the Oshkosh airport is not busy, it has a control tower that’s only open during AirVenture, but it becomes the busiest airport in the world.”
Eichholz knows about the yearly celebration but has never been.
“It’s in the summer time during fishing season,” he said. “So I’ll miss the fishing for a week there and go this year and I’m looking forward to that.”
Hill said the FAA administrator Michael Huerta would present Eichholz’s award along with three other national awards.
To win, Eichholz beat candidates from eight nationwide regions.
Judges for the award, who are all previous recipients, look for good role models and people who go “above and beyond,” Hill said.
“He’s very active within the FAA’s safety program,” she said of Eichholz.
When Eichholz is not working as an aviation insurance broker, he works as a designated pilot examiner and FAA check airman.
“I do the flight tests, so when people train somebody how to fly, I’m the examiner in the area. So they all have to take a check ride with me,” Eichholz said. “So any pilot that’s around in this area has pretty much had some experience with me. I’ve done either their check ride or some of their training and their check ride.”
When he was teaching regularly, Eichholz said he taught all types of flying including float and ski planes, now he primarily does flight reviews and upgrade training for pilots in the area.
He likes to teach people how to take off and land on water.
“Float planes are probably the most fun flying there is,” he said. “It mixes the water with boating and flying at the same time and being surrounded with as many wonderful lakes as we have around here, it opens up so much of Alaska. You can be up and in the air and in five minutes you can be landing on a lake and there’s no one else around. You can be alone with the loons.”
Whatever he’s doing, Eichholz said he never has enough time to fly just for the fun of it.
To get to those lakes, especially during silver fishing season, Eichholz said he typically uses his Super Cub — one of two airplanes he and his wife keep in a hanger on their property at Scooter’s Air Park in Sterling.
“It’s got really short field landing capability, it’s a real forgiving airplane,” he said. “It’s great for going onto beaches, going on floats to some of the mountain lakes, it can go almost anywhere.”
For longer trips, he has a Cessna 180.
“It’s a bigger airplane, more comfortable and the airplane is a lot faster. It’s a nice cross-country airplane to fly to different places. It’s 20 minutes from here to be at Merrill Field in Anchorage instead of three hours on the road.”
Eichholz said he would continue working with the FAA and the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation to teach people how to fly.
“It seems to go through cycles, at this particular moment it seems like there’s a real spurt of people in this area who want to fly. The demand for commercial pilots is growing,” he said. “There’s hope for general aviation in the future for sure.”