John Lillevold with the plaque he received when he was named Certified Flight Instructor of the Year for 2016 in South Dakota. Lillevold has been flying planes for 15 years and has been a flight instructor for nine years.
When some people decide to start a new career later in their lives, they usually end up behind a desk. For John Lillevold, he found himself sitting in the cockpit of a plane.
"I started flying to get to work," he said. He previously worked as an electrical engineer in Sioux Falls.
Flying cut the hour and a half drive down to 15-20 minute plane ride. He eventually became a full-time flight instructor with fellow pilot Gene Ebneter when they started the Yankton Flight Training Center in 2007 at Chan Gurney airport in Yankton.
In February, Lillevold was presented with the Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) of the Year for 2016 in South Dakota award. His nomination package contained a list of professional activities, which included acting as president of the Yankton Flight Training Center and flying several hundred Boy Scouts as part of their Aviation Merit Badge requirement.
Ebneter was one of the people who nominated Lillevold for the award.
"John’s a very fine flight instructor," Ebneter said. "He’s a very good citizen in the community and is an outstanding individual. He deserves it."
The CFI award is simply an additional bonus for Lillevold.
"I feel very flattered," he said. "I really like taking students who are initially very tentative and getting them past the point of being frightened until they get the confidence and fly off. That’s my reward."
Lillevold is still a part of the flight training program, except he now works with advanced pilots in training.
"When I became a flight instructor, I thought it was foolish to sit in the right seat of an airplane and let someone that’s never flown before take off," he admitted. "But I’ve had a ball."
Lillevold also flies for his own enjoyment. He pays yearly visits to places like the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands during the wintertime. In November, he took a step outside his comfort zone and visited Cuba.
"There are very few people in this country who have flown a private plane to Cuba," he said. "I had a real adventure. I swam in the Bay of Pigs and toured the country."
Lillevold makes these trips in a Skyhawk airplane. He also regularly flies a Cirrus aircraft and is currently learning how to fly a hot air balloon.
"It’s a new form of flying," Lillevold said. "I’ve learned so many things about wind and weather that I never appreciated before in a fixed-wing private plane."
Lillevold previously worked in electronics for 30 years. His job duties ranged from working on the first cellphone systems at Motorola in Chicago to designing a rectal thermometer for cows.
Lillevold and his wife moved to South Dakota from Chicago in 1998, around the time Lillevold "got tired of driving and starting flying."
He also used his flying skills to transport his children during their time in high school and college.
"They thought everyone flew," Lillevold said. "I’m not sure they appreciated that flying was a unique thing to do, but they do now."
Lillevold is happy he can share his talent with his loved ones.
"I knew I was blessed with this and that it was a great gift," he said. "If someone is ill, I can be there within a couple hours. If I decide to go to the Bahamas, I can be there in a day or two."
His wife frequently joins him on his tropical excursions.
"We went to Sanibel Island last year and revisited the house my wife and I spent our honeymoon," Lillevold said. "I would like to go back to the Bahamas. There’s an island there where there isn’t anything to do, which is just what I want for a few days."
Self-flying has other benefits.
"If I fly to a small airport, its little hassle for me," he said. "I don’t have to take off my shoes, my baggage is not inspected and if I want to carry a firearm on my person, I do."
The process becomes difficult when traveling out of the country.
"I have to clear customs by myself and figure out who I have to talk to, who I pay the fees to and where I park the plane," Lillevold explained.
This hassle is a minor inconvenience compared to the amount of enjoyment Lillevold has piloting his own aircraft.
"Some people fly for work and others for the visceral pleasure of flying through the air," Lillevold said. "For me, it’s a time machine that allows me to do things I wouldn’t always do."
Being a flight instructor allows him to pass this experience onto other pilots.
"Flight instructors teach people how to fly, either from scratch or if they’re moving up a license," Lillevold said. "I can teach people to fly in the day time, in the clouds, for money or whatever they want."
He is happy he can teach flying at the Chan Gurney airport.
"It’s one of the nicer airports I fly to," Lillevold said. "It’s well-kept and there’s an instrument landing system that helps me land when it’s cloudy."
Chan Gurney has a continuous traffic flow of company planes and, depending on the time of year, jets bringing in hunters and crop duster planes in the summer.
"There’s constant traffic out there, big and small," Lillevold said.
Some of that traffic includes pilots in training of all ages. According to Lillevold, the youngest person he trained was 15-years old while others range between 30-40-years old.
Lillevold is currently turning his focus on teaching pilots with more experience in the air.
"Trevor Zimmer is a new instructor at the flying school and I’m giving him all the primary students that I can," he said. "I’m more focused on giving people advanced ratings in their own planes to get away from the rental business."
He added that those who think flying an airplane will save them money are mistaken.
"It seldom saves you money," Lillevold said. "But if you live a good life, it saves you time. Being able to visit my children when I wouldn’t otherwise is worth extra to me."
Anyone interested in earning a private pilot license can contact Trevor Zimmer of Yankton Aviation at 1-605-940-8495.
Original article can be found here: http://www.yankton.net