Welcome to “Path to Your Dreams,” the blog series about fascinating and inspirational stories for young pilots trying to figure out their career path. We have talked with an eclectic group of pilots from various walks of life in aviation, to learn about how they followed their dreams in aviation. Here is the next installment.
The pilot: George Ford, air race pilot; formation flyer as a member of the West Coast Ravens; CEO and serial entrepreneur based in Longview, Washington.
The dream: To do formation flying and air racing.
The path: George has been fascinated with flight as long as he can remember. He says, “I was the kid at the top of the haystack in the barn, throwing paper airplanes. I built model airplanes. I raised pigeons. I even trained a chicken to be like a falcon, so one summer I was walking around with this chicken on my wrist.” He grew up on a tiny town on the Idaho border, but his high school had many excellent teachers. One of them, Robert Fromm, a former B-25 pilot, taught an aviation course, so in 1983, George received his student pilot certificate by completing ground training in high school.
After high school, George knew that his options for becoming a pilot were either military training or getting a private job and making enough money to afford his pilot’s license. At the time, service in the Air Force wasn’t an option for him, so he launched into a 19-year career with a national electronics retailer and was able to get his pilot’s license. Then, along came Moulton (Molt) Taylor, former U.S. Navy pilot, member of the Navy’s Gorgon missile program, and inventor of the Taylor Air Phone and the Aerocar. George had learned about one of Molt’s inventions in his high school aviation class, and one day in 1986, Molt walked into a retail location where George was working. George asked if he was “that Molt Taylor,” and Molt quickly took George under his wing, influencing him as a pilot and inventor.
“I love the smiles that flying brings to people, the way it inspires them. When I was a kid, we had a small dirt runway outside our schoolyard. I was plastered against the fence trying to get closer to that airplane that just landed. After an airshow flight, I’m looking for that kid who was just like me. I go to the front lines, for the kids who fight their way to the front. You sign something, you encourage them.”
After getting his pilot’s license, some pilot friends recommended that George get a Van’s aircraft, and he bought an RV-4 and later an RV-8. He soon began to fly formation with a group of other Vans Aircraft Pilots in their various models, soon after he began flying with, the West Coast Ravens. “They’re just an amazing group of pilots: very skillful and competent. They encouraged me to fly with them, and I wasn’t sure at first, but I tried it and just loved it! Next thing you know, we’re doing things in these airplanes that I would never have believed possible.” They invited him to an airshow, and soon they were also doing military airshows, and eventually they flew at Oshkosh. The airshow circuit introduced him to a lot of other amazing pilots: YouTube pilots who do formation flying, military pilots who’ve flown all kinds of aircraft. “Once you get in that group, the doors really started opening, and you can just go to the next step.”
The next step for George turned out to be air racing: He started in the Sports Air Racing League (SARL), in Washington state. One of the formation pilots George knows, Bob Mills, is president of sport class racing at Reno, and he invited George down to Reno. He’s raced three years now, and he says it’s thrilling. “It’s like flying in formation, but only 50 feet off the ground. You push your throttle forward all the way and you don’t pull it back.”
And speaking of not pulling the throttle back, while he was advancing from flying to formation flying to air racing, George was also founding and growing two businesses, a regional cellular technology retailer and a video company that produces internationally famous fireplace videos and videos to train pets. (Seriously. Not videos on how to train pets. Videos that train the pets themselves.)
George also loves the people and personalities in aviation. “Your friends in aviation become friends for life in a different way. Flying together surpasses a social barrier. You form a bond with these people and they’re the ones you trust with your life. “
Most memorable flight: “When eight of our planes detach from the back of 30 planes coming over Oshkosh, drop down into FAA-waivered airspace for the show with at least 200,000 people watching. That and my first couple of military shows. When I was a child, our Cub Scout group got to spend a night in the mess hall at Fairchild Air Force Base. So, when I got to fly in the Fairchild AFB air show 3 years ago and land my civilian plane at Fairchild, well, you don’t forget that as long as you live!”
Flights on the bucket list: “I’ve got a lot on my bucket list! I’m actively looking for another plane. I’ve been fortunate to own some planes that few civilians have owned. I even got an A7D Corsair 2 without an engine. I donated one of those historic aircraft to a museum, and another flew away with someone else. I’m always working to be a better pilot, and I’m looking for a turbine or jet aircraft. And I want to fly to all the places. Right now, I’m working towards landing on every public runway in Washington State through the Fly Washington Passport Program.”
Advice for other dreamers: “If you’re not growing, you’re shrinking. Flying an airplane and maneuvering are all perishable skills. (Hence the term ‘rusty pilot.’) You need to safely press some boundaries under the tutelage of someone who’s experienced. So, surround yourself with people who know more than you do and are willing to teach you. Formation flying also makes you a better pilot. You know where the airplane is and what it’s doing all the time. The secret of all this is ‘Don’t say no.’”