Return to Flight

By Micah Maziar, EAA 1246451

My exposure to aviation began in earnest in my early teens. Whenever there was good weather on a Sunday after church, my parents would stop at a fast food burger joint or pizza shop, buy lunch, and drive my sister and me to the airport to watch airplanes practice in the pattern. When they started that tradition, I don’t think they realized exactly how much time we’d be spending at Zanesville Municipal Airport (ZZV) over the next several years. We were there for fly-ins, airshows, Civil Air Patrol meetings, seminars, and flight training. A lot of flight training.

While my path to aviation started with our Sunday tradition, it was jumpstarted in an unconventional manner. Growing up, we only had three TV channels, one being PBS. At 13 or 14 years old, I wasn’t really the target audience, but watching Reading Rainbow was better than soap operas. One book that host Levar Burton highlighted was called Bored – Nothing to Do. It was about two boys who built an airplane out of things they found around their parents’ house. It was a good enough story; however, the life-changing segment was next. Levar took a discovery flight in a Cherokee 6. The moment he rotated, felt the wheels break ground, and realized he was flying, he laughed, his eyes widened, and he giddily said, “That’s great! Wow!” It was at that moment that I knew I wanted to fly.

As my interest in aviation grew, I would listen to air band on my parents’ multi-band radio and would try to piece together where airplanes were and where they were going. Little did I know at the time that I’d make my living issuing instructions on airband.

My dad encouraged my new passion by scheduling my first airplane ride. We drove up to New Philadelphia Airport (PHD) one Saturday when I was 14 years old. John Haines was a colleague whom my dad had met through work. We walked into the hangar to see the airplane that would set my course into aviation. It was a Christen Eagle. As we taxied out, John explained taxiing in a nose-high tailwheel aircraft and described the physics of bi-cambered wings. As we climbed into the aerobatic box, he explained g-forces and their effects on human physiology. Upon reaching the box, he performed aileron rolls, Cuban-eights, and hammerhead stalls. To finish the routine, John rolled us upside down, and we viewed the airport through the bubble canopy while hanging by nothing but our harnesses. It was an experience I will never forget. As we got out of the Eagle, my dad asked, “So how was it?” My response was, “It was like a roller coaster with no tracks.” I was hooked.

Because I was still too young to solo, my parents took me to aerobatic events at Bolton Field (TZR) and supported my activities in Civil Air Patrol.

On my 16th birthday, my mom scheduled my first flying lesson, which turned out to be less eventful than my driving lessons.

From the summer of my 16th birthday until my 23rd year, flight training never stopped. I finished my private and instrument before heading to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. There, I completed my commercial, multi-engine, CFI, CFII, and MEI along with a couple of way too late in the evening (or too early in the morning depending on how you look at it) flight blocks in the university’s Level D simulators.

I was on the track to become an airline pilot, and I selected the Air Traffic Control minor for my degree during my freshman year. As the years progressed, the prospects for the airlines did not appear to be as good as my classmates and I had hoped they would be. It seemed that furloughs were on the horizon. I couldn’t afford not to have a job after college, so I had to find an alternative to flying for a living.

Micah and his wife, Susan.

With the airlines not being a viable option at the time, I took the exam to be considered for an air traffic control specialist position in the FAA. For several months after graduation, I worked part time jobs while waiting to hear back from the FAA about my application. One night I received a call from a Chicago telephone number. It was FAA Great Lakes human resources with an offer of employment, which I immediately accepted. After months of background checks, drug tests, eye exams, and physicals, I packed up and moved to Oklahoma City to attend the FAA’s academy for four months.

After the academy, I moved to Toledo, Ohio, and started training at the Toledo Air Traffic Control Tower and TRACON. I have been an air traffic controller at Toledo Express Airport (TOL) ever since.

I hadn’t flown an airplane since my coursework at college was completed, so I started to look around for airplanes to rent. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one that didn’t break my cardinal rule for rentals: Don’t pay more per hour than you get in true airspeed.

The attacks of 9/11 occurred, and, with them, my desire to fly all but drained away. I was in the tower working when we cleared the airspace. The F-16s based at my airport scrambled to intercept Flight 93. Like the rest of the country, we were all in shock. During that time, I made the emotional decision to not renew my CFI, CFII, and MEI without a single minute of dual given. It’s a decision I regret to this day.

Over the next several years, I became involved with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) as a facility representative and as a National Safety Committee member. During that time, I was fortunate to build relationships with local pilots, some of who have become fast friends. I had the opportunity to ride along with those friends in a range of aircraft from Skyhawks to Cherokees to a JetPROP and a TBM. With each flight, my desire to fly started to reignite.

In 2016, Toledo Express hosted its first air show in 14 years. As the NATCA representatives for the show, my colleague Jeff Hormann and I received all access passes and attended all of the pre-show safety meetings. Being in the room with those at the top of their field like Jacquie B., Kyle Franklin, and Rob Holland filled me with awe. To be able to watch their routines up close from next to the air boss trailer was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After all of the flying was done that weekend, I did a personal debriefing to determine what I’d learned during the show. It all boiled down to air boss Ralph Royce’s words before he ended each safety meeting. “Do nothing dumb.” Words to live and fly by.

A NATCA brother suggested that I apply for a “pink shirt” ATC position at Oshkosh for AirVenture 2016. Walking into the tower of the world’s busiest airport is one of the most unreal feelings I have ever experienced. Working with a team of controllers to make sense of the chaos was only part of the appeal of AirVenture. The other part was roaming around the show grounds, meeting people, and looking at airplanes. The flying bug had bitten me again, hard.

One of the pilots I met on the show grounds was aviation photographer Deon Mitton. Noticing my bright pink shirt, he approached me and asked for a tour of the tower during the afternoon air show. He happily clicked away taking fantastic photos of the tower cab from all angles. As we left, he gave me his business card and told me to follow him on Instagram to see the photos he’d taken not only at Oshkosh but also around the world. I followed him on Instagram, followed his flying friends, and followed their flying friends. Suddenly, my feed was full of airplanes. This feed of flying photos intensified my desire to get back into the left seat, but I still hadn’t found an airplane that didn’t break my cardinal rule regarding hourly rates for rentals.

I didn’t attend AirVenture in 2017 due to the scheduling of equipment upgrades at my tower, but I watched all of the coverage of the event. I became an EAA member for the first time and took a ride in one of EAA’s Ford Tri-Motors at Port Clinton Airport (PCW). Shortly after, a couple of coworkers and I were invited to conduct a pilot briefing with EAA Chapter 582 at Toledo Executive Airport (TDZ). We discussed a range of topics from communications to tower equipment and from facility realignments to privatization. During the presentation, I described my AirVenture experience from the year before and mentioned wanting to start flying again. After the meeting, Ned Wisniewski approached me about joining a flying club that has a 1977 Piper Archer. The best part? It was in compliance with the dollars to airspeed rule.

My return to flight started when Ned set up an introductory flight with the club’s instructor Steve Crum, EAA 8729. We met at the hangar, discussed my previous experience, did a preflight, and went flying. The longer we were airborne, the more I could feel the aviator’s good habits coming back. Scanning, clearing turns, stalls, slow flight, and steep turns all felt great. As we turned inbound to the airport, I started worrying about landing. I hadn’t landed an airplane in almost 20 years. I kept waiting to hear Steve say, “My airplane,” but he never did. I continued to fly on and realized I was going to have to put the Archer on the ground. As we entered base, I double-checked speeds, power settings, and flaps. Steve talked me all the way through the landing slowly and methodically. It wasn’t a beautiful landing; however, Steve didn’t have to take over, and we didn’t have to go around. That was a win for me. It was exhilarating. We did flight training on an almost weekly basis for about a month and a half before Steve signed me off for a flight review and told me to take a key to the airplane.

In the seven months since, I have logged nearly 30 hours. When I was doing my initial training in the late 1990s, each flight was scripted. You couldn’t just burn holes in the sky for fun. Now I am enjoying the freedom to do just that, and it’s a totally different kind of flying. I’ve had the opportunity to take my wife, Susan, flying several times now as well. Our adorable husky mix puppy, Tala, has gone with us one time.

My next steps are to get night current and complete an IPC. My bucket list includes getting a tailwheel endorsement and seaplane rating. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading, studying, and watching everything that I can find about flying and airmanship. I am also planning to start flying for Young Eagles events next year.

Susan actively encourages my flying habit although she was taken aback the day we were flying to Coldwater Airport (OEB) for lunch when I looked at her and said, “You know. I could fly us straight into the poor house.” Her response was classic: “But you won’t because you’re an adult. Right?” Maybe.

Since that conversation, she spoiled me by booking flights on Kenmore Air’s de Havilland Beaver and Turbine Otter on straight floats. I was able to sit in the right seat on both flights and watch their pilots at work. They make it look effortless. I strive to do the same when I’m flying the Archer.

My favorite memory since my return to flight is from a beautiful May evening with clear skies and almost no wind. Susan and I decided to have a “sky date” as she calls them. Ever the romantic, I decided upon flying to dinner at Mansfield Airport (MFD) to have delicious sandwiches at the Subway that’s located in the airport’s little terminal building. “Only the best,” we laughed as we looked out the window at the Archer sitting on the ramp. The flight home was incredible. I would say “unimaginable,” but if you’ve flown toward a descending sun on a perfectly clear and calm evening, you know exactly what I am talking about. I will never forget it. At that moment over Northwest Ohio with my favorite person in the world, my flying future was set. I will do everything within my power to continue flying. I will continue to learn and improve, and I will share flying with everyone that I possibly can.

My return to flight would not have been possible without my parents Mike and Kathy Maziar, my pilot friends including Greg Mohr and Ryan Rawski, and my many flight instructors over the years. I want to thank EAA for not only rekindling the flying fire at AirVenture but also for facilitating the introduction to the Archer Flying Club. Most of all, I want to thank Susan. Deep down, I have always wanted to share the freedom of flight with her, and I am grateful to have been given that opportunity.

I will be back at AirVenture 2018 as a controller, so if you want to talk airplanes, ATC, or flying in general, look me up when I’m on a break. I’ll be wearing a dayglow pink shirt with “Oshkosh Tower” printed on the back.

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