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 another story for you to enjoy.
The pilot: Melvin Williams, aerobatics pilot; aircraft mechanic; Boeing 737NG/MAX/C40 educator; certified flight instructor; owner of a Beechcraft Musketeer and a Bellanca Decathlon 150HP; youth mentor; and host of the melthetraveler Instagram channel.
The dream: To have a career in airline maintenance…and then more!
The path: Melvin Williams was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, a few short miles from John F. Kennedy airport, and by age 6, he was captivated by aviation. In those pre-9/11 years, his aunt would take him down to the terminal to watch planes fly in and out. When his high school years rolled around, Mel registered at the Aviation High School, a public high school in Long Island City, New York. It wasn’t a piloting program, but it was a path into aviation. He graduated as a qualified aircraft maintenance technician, and the then-19-year-old was hired straight out of school by Delta Airlines to work as a maintenance technician at JFK. Soon after, he got his Airframe and Powerplant certification. He says, “It was pretty incredible. I was a kid, and the responsibility I had was amazing. And to this day, if you go to JFK, you’ll see these 19- or 20-year-olds working on the planes, and you can bet they went to Aviation High School.”
Mel became a pilot a few years later. He had advanced to be a line mechanic for Delta, based in Atlanta, Georgia. One day he was called to talk to a pilot and check out issues with a plane. When Mel finished, the pilot said, “You’re a young guy. Have you ever thought about flying?” Mel said yes, when he was younger, but that he was comfortable in his current work. But a few more encounters and talks with that pilot convinced him to try. “I kind of saw it as a sign.” They exchanged numbers, and the pilot found someone who could take Mel up. He had his first flight in a Cessna182 and “That was all she wrote!” We asked Mel whether being a pilot had changed his approach to airplane mechanics, and he said, “Surprisingly, not so much. But I do take an extra look when I’m doing walk-arounds.”
“As a CFI, there’s a lot of gratification in watching people progress. I’m helping this person to become a pilot. I might be teaching a certain lesson, and I remember what I did, and then they struggle with something completely different. It’s cool to watch someone else go through it. Everyone learns and responds to new things differently. It changes your own perspective on flying.”
After he got his pilot’s license, Mel ran into the gentleman who had taken him for his first flight. That pilot also owned a Van’s RV-8 and invited Mel along. Sometime during the flight, he asked if Mel wanted to try doing a roll. He did a roll and loved it, so he found a trainer and learned the ropes in a Citabria. He got his tail wheel endorsement on a Decathlon, and “that was the plane I knew I had to have.” Today, he’s competing, with hopes of someday getting into air shows.
About aerobatics, he says, “I’m actually surprised that I like it. I don’t like heights and I hate roller coasters. So, it’s extremely strange for me to take up aerobatic flying and even go as far as competing. But with aerobatics, I’m in control. I feel free when I’m up there doing something that people don’t normally do. Aerobatics is a very small community, even worldwide, so there’s a bit of bragging rights. And it makes me safer as a pilot because I’m used to unusual attitudes and funny positions. You really learn how to move the airplane, to feel everything. You reach a different level of understanding about what’s going on. And the community is small but extremely supportive. As a new person in the space, I’ve gotten nothing but support, so it’s been a fun journey thus far.”
On top of his flying skills, Mel got his flight instructor certificate in September of 2020. Today, as a CFI he’s helping to train the next generation of pilots and as a Boeing 737NG maintenance instructor, he’s training the next generation of aircraft mechanics.
Most memorable flight: “My first competition was very interesting because everything was new. Of course, I practiced and practiced, but it’s different when the lights are on. It’s like I can go into a gym and shoot a basketball and feel pretty good about it, but it would be different in an arena packed with spectators and referees. My first flight, actually getting judged, was a different thing. Everything was moving, fast from my perspective, and there’s so much to think about: being in the right position, doing the maneuvers by the book.” The experience, the rush, the adrenaline, getting scores for the first time… it was all memorable.”
Flights on his bucket list: To perform at Sun ‘n Fun and Oshkosh, and maybe one day become an air race pilot.
Advice for other dreamers: “I would just say to follow your dreams. I like to tell people that aviation saved my life, because I like learning but I’m not a big fan of going to school. I’m glad I got into the field that I’m in because I thoroughly enjoy it, and I’m still living the dream. I wake up every day and I get to talk about airplanes, and I get paid to do it, which is fantastic. I’ve also found a lot of help and support in the aviation community and fostered a lot of relationships. So, if you like flying, embrace it. Live it every day.”
Mel also recommends that every pilot take some type of basic aerobatic lessons, especially in unusual attitudes, upset prevention, and recovery. “You might get caught in clouds and get disoriented, so you might get inverted. You need to know how to get out of that without freaking out. I think there’s some value in taking a few aerobatic lessons, just to know what it’s like. You don’t have to like it, maybe it’s not your thing, but at least if you get into a situation, you know what to do.”