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The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Monday, February 18, 2013

New CFI of the Year Credits Personal Dedication, Teamwork In Reaching New Heights

By Carmelo Turdo
Each January, the Greater St. Louis Flight Instructors Association (GSLFIA) holds the Midwest Aviation Conference and Trade Show at the Maryland Heights Centre in St. Louis County.  During the weekend event, an awards ceremony is held on Saturday evening to recognize Certified Flight Instructors of the Year.  The Aero Experience recently visited with 2013 Rick Albrecht New Certified Flight Instructor of the Year, Mr. Rich Franzer, CFI at Air Associates of Missouri.  This award recognizes a CFI with less than five years experience who has demonstrated outstanding achievement in cultivating student pilots, positively influencing peers to maintain the highest standards of flight instruction and supporting the local aviation community.  It did not take very long to determine that the GSLFIA made an excellent choice.

Rich Franzer exudes the cool confidence and low-key persona that one would expect of a flight instructor, and was genuinely flattered to be recognized for his talent and hard work.  “It’s like getting the Rookie of the Year,” he quipped, noting that he became a CFI through Air Associates of Missouri on November 1, 2011 and began working there right after Thanksgiving.  Over the following year, Franzer performed about 900 hours of dual instruction, far more than the nearest award candidate, and not surprisingly, he has received a significant number of referrals since receiving the award.  Franzer learned that he was the award recipient about a week before the ceremony, and quickly recruited fellow CFI and friend, Charlie Ford, to assist him in presenting one of the modules at the Flight Instructors Revalidation Clinic that Saturday morning.  He just takes it all in stride.  “I had a lot of students, of all levels of capability.  We are almost always busy here.”

From the beginning of our conversation, Rich Franzer credited Air Associates of Missouri for his success as a CFI.  “There’s no way I could have done that (receive the award) without Air Associates.  I had a lot of really good students here, and the people I work with took me under their wing and helped me get started.  They created the environment, and set me up for success.” 
Though now in his forties, Rich Franzer has been flying for just over four years, earning his Private Pilot Certificate in 2008 while flying out of a grass strip in Montgomery, Missouri.   He later went to Langa Air, a now defunct flight school at St. Louis Regional Airport, to continue his training, but lost money in the school’s bankruptcy in 2009.  He persevered, and added ratings at other flight schools on the path to becoming a CFI.

Prior to beginning his flying career, Franzer was in the construction industry for 20 years.  He received a back injury, and doctors recommended surgery to fuse two spinal discs.  “I decided not to do that,” he said.  A life-changing event would soon occur.  “I went on a cruise to Alaska, and took a scenic flight.  The pilot was from St. Louis, and we started talking.  I asked him, ‘Why are you up here?’ He said, ‘I’m flying!’ OK, he learned to fly in the St. Louis area.  I could do this.”   Moving forward into pilot training, Franzer called on a part of his inner character.  “I’m determined.  If I set my mind to something I’m going to do it, and do it right the first time.  I’m the prime example of 'anyone can do this.'”
Rich Franzer was in a common student pilot demographic – not college kids – but mid-life, 30-40+ year-olds that have more resources to apply to flying.  Obtaining a Private Pilot Certificate can cost $8,500-$10,000, so it is not undertaken lightly.  That price tag also leads some students to drop out of training when they still have great potential to obtain their Private Pilot Certificates.  Personally knowing the needs of his students, Franzer goes above and beyond normal standards to accommodate them.  “I keep my schedule open 7 days a week,” Franzer said.  He remembers how disappointing it was in his own training while waiting for an instructor to be available, so he keeps his schedule open as much as possible and flies 2-4 times per day.  Being ready to fly keeps the students’ interest and helps to build a strong clientele.  Overall, he has been successful in graduating high-quality private pilots, and he gives them the recognition.  “I have to give my students credit.  They are very smart and have their own drive.  My job is to guide them through the process."
Scott Thompson (Assistant Chief Pilot), Bronwyn Voth (Marketing Communications Director), Rich Franzer (Certified Flight Instructor), Charlie Ford (Certified Flight Instructor) and Michael Matthews (Office Manager) discuss a new community outreach initiative during a regular staff meeting. 
Franzer also gives recognition for much of his success as a CFI to the support he receives from his colleagues at Air Associates of Missouri.  Since operations began at Spirit of St. Louis Airport in November 2009, Air Associates of Missouri has experienced significant growth.  There are currently nine CFIs, three full-time, and last year over 4,040 CFI hours were completed.  Flight lessons can be booked using Flight Schedule Pro linked to the Air Associates web site.  Air Associates of Missouri is also a Certified Cessna Pilot Center, offering the Cessna Flight Training System – integrated ground school and flight training preparatory courses provided on-line by King Schools.  Rich Franzer has high praise for the training system:  “Our students who take the training are more knowledgeable.  I just have to talk to them - they know what they’re doing.”  Others not using the Cessna Flight Training System tend to need more one-on-one assistance to make progress.

Air Associates of Missouri also offers aircraft rentals and maintenance services, with over 4,250 rental hours completed in 2012. Franzer sought out Air Associates of Missouri in part because of the current aircraft fleet and high-quality maintenance service. The current fleet consists of one C-162, three C-172S's, two C172S's with G1000, one C182, one C172RG, a twin-engine Duchess and an Elite RC-1 flight simulator. “The equipment is nicer here than in most flight schools. It’s the best equipment for a St. Louis flight school. I have that peace of mind that when I get into the plane I can focus on teaching the student.” He added that the maintenance crew puts a priority on keeping the training aircraft operationally ready, and therefore preventing the cancellation of training flights. Along with maintaining the training and rental aircraft, service is provided for Cessna, Beechcraft and Piper aircraft, including power plant repair, annual and 100 hr. inspections and oxygen service.    
So now that Rich Franzer has been recognized as the 2013 Rick Albrecht New Certified Flight Instructor of the Year, what does the future hold?  What will change, and what will remain the same? 

Most of Franzer’s successful practices will remain as they are.  He will continue to work hard on behalf of his students.  His teaching style will remain positive, the type of coaching that guides the student to the fine edge of knowledge and skill required to handle any situation in the air.  “They are paying us to teach them, not to complain to them.  If you make it fun, then the standards they are held to will seem like just the way things are done.”  When introducing flight to new students, he has a way of putting the training process in perspective.  “It’s not that complicated, it’s just a brand-new language.  You submerge yourself in it, and you learn.  Just fly the plane.  I show them how easy it is.”  He adds with a slight grin, “Every student is different.  It’s a neat feeling after the student is back and the plane is tied down after the solo. 

Rich Franzer maintains his passion for flight, and he plans to continue his career as long as he can.  He is logging multi-engine time and is working toward obtaining a multi-engine CFI rating soon.  He does not rule out flying for an airline, flying the mail, or training new pilots for the next 20 years.  “I plan to continue flying as a career, for sure. If I’m in a plane making money, I’m happy.  Just the thought of making a living at flying is fine.  I have already achieved what I wanted to achieve – actually flying for a paycheck.”  His enthusiasm is contagious, and no doubt he will continue to play an important role in aviation for a long time to come.
Editor's Note: Special thanks to the staff at Air Associates of Missouri for their hospitality during the preparation of this article, and to Rich Franzer for giving his time to a lengthy interview between lessons.  A future article will feature 2013 St. Louis Certified Flight Instructor of the Year, Mr. Ken Kellogg, who flies for Ideal Aviation at St. Louis Downtown Airport.  

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