STORIES FROM THE 44TH PARALLEL

Freelance Writer & Photographer in Michigan

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  • Marianne Kuzimski

How David Pflum Made Flying His Mission


Summer 2019

The first ride in David’s RV-7A had me a bit nervous. Knowing that he had built the aircraft from the ground up, I wondered if he had used enough bolts to hold the wings on. But with all of his experience including holding an airplane mechanic certificate, I really had nothing to worry about.

Thoughts of his colored past flying by the seat of his pants racing enduro while his wife met him with gas refills at designated checkpoints, I knew the two of them were an unbeatable team. The RV build was just one more example of that sureness.

Shrugging off my unease, I climbed into the cockpit to be buckled into a 5-point harness similar to a fighter jet. As David snugged down the straps to the point I felt connected to the airframe, the inkling we would be upside down at some point during the flight threw my mind for a loop.

I looked at David’s face and saw the same grin I beheld in photos of his wedding day 50-years previous. The same eager look, I expect, when he readied himself for a 100-mile enduro, motorcycle race, blowing through the woods on a single trail with 300 other riders.


I know he was thrilled to show off all that the RV could do, but knowing I get motion sickness easily, he probably felt a little concerned about my throwing up in his brand new airplane.


The exhilaration I felt taxiing out to the runway with the canopy open quickly chased away any fears, and the eagerness reflected in his eyes ratcheted up my own excitement.

“Okay…” I thought, “This is going to be fun!”

With anticipation amping up in time with the run-up for take-off, concerns of unfamiliar attitudes in this little hot-rod fled my mind as David locked the glass canopy closed.

Within seconds, the Vans RV-7A shot off the runway as if nothing could bind her to the earth for long.

Having only a stick for the yoke, it was amazing how sensitive the plane reacted to even the slightest influence. The G’s at take off thrilled me to no end, but at seeing the look in David’s eyes threatening to show off the capabilities of his new toy… I freaked.

Thoughts of steep banks, barrel rolls, and loop-de-loops had me looking for a handle of sorts to hang on to as I wondered, “What kind of tricks can he actually do in this thing?!”

Reasoning out the FAA ruling on aerobatics, I felt fairly confident steep banks would be the worst of it. Being we didn’t have any parachutes onboard meant things would stay pretty tame, but thoughts of soiling his brand new seats must have been written all over my face, quickly dousing his urge to show me exactly how much fun the RV was.

Zipping around for a quick ride, it was apparent this aircraft was one of the best things that had ever happened to David Pflum. He loved every second of the flight, and was eager to share the experience with those of us who were a part of his life.

All too soon, the plane glided over the threshold for a perfect landing, and the woosh of air from the canopy sliding open made me feel a little sad the ride was over.


Building His Dream


It had taken David Pflum 10 years, 2 months, and 5 days to build his dream, and even though it was hard to devote time to the project, he would recommend others that are interested in building their own aircraft kit to do it.


When asked about the type of difficulties he had building the airplane, David shared, “You could work for 10 hours on something and have to start over because you did it wrong or it turned out wrong.”


For David Pflum, the entire build experience became an opportunity “to learn new skills and improve on others,” David said, “and boy is it a lot of fun to fly!”


With the help of his wife, Donna, and a lot of good friends, the RV-7A turned out being everything he ever wanted in an airplane, and more.


Enthusiasm in Spades!


If there was a single person I could name in the whole wide world that was THE MOST excited about flying airplanes, it would have to be David Pflum.

David developed a love for flying at a very young age when his father bought him an airplane ride at 9-years-old. After that first experience, he was hooked! Building airplanes out of tinker toys, erector sets, and paper… it was certain that David Pflum would become a pilot at some point in his life.

The need to fly pushed him to pursue the skills at Western Michigan University in 1968, but love for his wife, Donna, and the family they would grow together would delay this leisure pursuit until 1994 when he finally had the time and money to devote to earning his private pilot license.

To fly with David, you would think that learning how to fly would have been easy for him, but I suppose you don’t ever know the struggles a person goes through unless you ask.

Although he loved learning stalls and ground reference maneuvers during his training, David recalls, “Scheduling lessons around my work and personal life,” and, “ATC communications was hard.” 


Sometimes you have to hear those first stories in order to get over a hurdle that had been holding you back. For me, hearing about a pilot’s experiences really helps in understanding that I’m not alone in thinking some things are difficult.


With a mere 130 hours of experience, David flew his very first long distance trip with a friend to Groten, Connecticut.


All by VOR and pilotage, David recalled, “I remember my first lesson in fuel management. [With a] strong headwind, my planned fuel stop turned out to be a closed airfield,” and then, “almost landed on a taxiway instead of the runway assigned.”


Being Prepared

Even though his first long distance trip proved trying, it never got under his skin enough to ground him. And two years later, David decided he was, “tired of not flying because of a few clouds,” so earned his IFR rating.

Living in northern Michigan has its own, unique weather issues to deal with, but obtaining an IFR rating is a lot more work! As I grumble about not getting enough seat time due to work and weather, I wonder about the merits of going the extra steps.

“Is it really worth getting an IFR rating?” I asked.


David offers a resounding “YES!” to this question, so if you are a VFR pilot on the fence about the Instrument Flight Rating, then you might want to hear what he has to say about it.


“It makes a pilot a much safer and better pilot,” he said. “Even if a pilot never files an IFR flight plan, it makes them a smoother and more confident.”


Having struggled with ATC interaction while flying under the hood, the rating aided David to getting through more than one rough IFR flight.


When asked about his scariest IFR flight, David said, “[I] accidently flew into a thunderstorm and thought Donna would never fly with me again.”


For this pilot, it’s never a question as to whether he has navigated into IFR conditions since experiencing a scary situation. David states, “I love being prepared and dealing with difficult situations. I learned from the experiences and benefited from dealing with all of the issues.” 


Alexander Graham Bell said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”


David not only agrees with this philosophy, he shares this ideal with others.


Sharing Through Connections


Having formed the monthly VMC/IMC Club at the Roscommon County Airport at the suggestion by EAA President, Kevin Lewis, David offers all pilots the opportunity to come together and share their flight experiences in hopes all will ‘be prepared’ for an ill-timed dilemma in the sky.


When asked about the club, David shared, “You know me, I love to talk about flying and the opportunity to interact with other pilots and hear their stories is a lot of fun, as well as educational for everyone. I hope it helps to make better pilots of all of us, [and] maybe someday it will help someone survive an incident or prevent one.”


Besides earning his IFR rating, David also holds an ASL Commercial rating, and is a Certified Flight Instructor with Instruments (CFII).

Having over 3,425 hours in the pilot’s seat, David has flown dozens of single-engine models of aircraft, and continues to share his passion for flying by offering flight training in rural, northern Michigan.

David offers students and licensed pilots alike the opportunity to receive training they would otherwise have to travel a long distance to receive. Seeing 25 students through to earning their private pilot’s license, so far, it is a blessing to have someone as skilled and dedicated to flying in the Roscommon County area.

When asked if it was hard to pass the CFI checkride, David explained, “By far, it was the most difficult. It is the only test that I flunked in all of my life.” 

Having to wait nearly 4 months to retake the test in Grand Rapids, David passed with no problem, and achieved his CFI in 1999.


“[There was] just so much information to remember,” he said, “[and] flying from the right seat was difficult.”


Still, I wondered why he decided to teach, and David shared, “It was a natural progression to my ratings. It pays for my hobby, and probably most of all, I like to see all of the pilots in the area that I have taught and instructed.”

He has certainly experienced a lot of hours in the instructor's seat with myself, especially being I took a bit longer than some to progress through all of the PPL requirements. As I look back, I find it hard to imagine staying as calm as David does while sitting in the instructor’s seat, and I wondered if a student pilot had ever scared him.


“Not scared me,” David laughed, “mostly just surprised [me].”


David continued, “[I’m] usually too busy to be scared. A good pilot is always learning. A good instructor is learning sometimes in hyper speed.”


David shared one of the funniest thing that had ever happened to him while instructing. “A student put an aircraft into a spin on purpose to see what it was like without telling me he was going to do it. He threw up his hands and said, ‘your airplane.’”


“After the initial shock, he fessed up and we both laughed.” David said, “To this day, we still talk about it.”


Even though instructor, David Pflum, appears to be sitting calmly in the right seat while his students try to figure out how to land the airplane, he has his tells that things are getting tense.

Laughing, David admits, “I’ve been told they know I’m getting nervous when I start rubbing my fingers together.”

For myself, I could see him start reaching for the yoke signaling it was time to start flaring. This was a good hint for me because figuring out the sight picture when it was time to flare proved one of the toughest parts of landing.


Oftentimes, I questioned if I had what it takes to earn my PPL.


With the piles of available reference material, flying videos, and quizzes, would I ever be able to cram it all into my head as well as show proficiency in the pilot’s seat? I wondered more than once what David’s opinion was on personality type or character trait that makes up the best pilot.


His thoughts were that besides having enough money and an understanding spouse (if applicable), the only traits he could define was a desire to experience some adventure in life and not being afraid to work at it.


One of the biggest factors in achieving the PPL is having enough confidence to pilot the airplane through all of the trials. I know I’m not alone in my abilities running hot and cold.

It seems to me that some days you’re hot, and some days you’re not!

Since atmospheric conditions are always changing, you can never count on one flight being identical to the next... Even though you’re counting on that muscle memory to kick in for handling every situation. It’s when that muscle memory fails that your confidence crumbles, and the next thing you know, you’re feeling a little nervous about your next flight.

David shares that all pilots go through times of nervousness, especially if it has been some time since last flying.


Reviewing checklists, staying abreast of techniques through articles or videos, and assessing yourself against go-no-go standards are all steps toward being better prepared when you hop in the pilot’s seat.


Just as David constantly reminds his students to fly with your “feet first,” the best tips he can offer new students is to:

1. fly as often as possible.

2. make sure you and your instructor can get along.

3. study, study, study. 

4. never give up!


The best part of David's job is, “making good pilots who also usually become new friends,” and the worst part is, “losing good customers and pilots and watching them lose their dream for many various reasons.”


Feeling strongly about the importance of his mission, David states, “When they fail, I fail.” 


In all of his experience, a common pitfall that many pilots fall into is “losing that loving feeling.” David explains, “You can make anything boring if you don’t work at it. Just make sure it’s still fun. Don’t lose that joy.”

What is the Mission?

It seems David is in the air every chance he can get. “Part of flying for me is the mission,” he said.

Recently retired from the Coast Guard Auxilary, David volunteered his services for more than 20-years flying missions 3-or-more times a month, “looking for pollution, stranded boaters and ice in the winter, [assisted] Border Patrol in looking for snowmobiles coming across the border, [aided in] search and rescue,” and more.


David participates annually at the Pontiac Airport in Operation Good Cheer, flying Christmas presents to various airports in the state. He is a familiar face at the local chapter EAA’s Fly-In events, as well as the Young Eagles program, and the Veteran’s Appreciation Day.


David also organizes the EAA annual pilot’s Christmas party, and summer fun picnic where flying games offer pilots the opportunity to demonstrate their landing and targeting skills.


As far as his bucket list goes, David would like to experience a ride in jet fighter, and his idea of a dream flight would be flying to the Bahama’s one day.


Over the years I have gotten to know David Pflum, I have to say he is not only one of the kindest individuals I have ever met, but has the spirit and unshakable zest for living that is contagious.


American author, Jason Reynolds, said, “Having a superpower has nothing to do with the ability to fly or jump, or superhuman strength. The truest superpowers are the ones we all possess: willpower, integrity, and most importantly, courage.


Paired with an enormous level of generosity in helping others accomplish a goal that, in his life, has been a dream come true, I’d say David Pflum has lots of super powers… all wrapped up with an eager smile and a mission to share his love of flying.

David Pflum trains adventure seekers how to fly airplanes.

He performs biennial flight reviews for area pilots.

He volunteers for important community programs.

He built his own airplane!

What's your super power?





#pilot #CFI #IFR #airplane #VansRV-7A


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References:

Brainyquote, Superpowers, https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/superpowers-quotes

AZ Quotes, Alexander Graham Bell, https://www.azquotes.com/quote/22739

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