Teaching others to fly

By Sam Adams

Jeff Snapp is 800 hours away from his dream.

When the math teacher started taking helicopter flying lessons two years ago, it was just to learn a new skill. So he got his private license. Then another one. A third. And as of early September, he’s a fully licensed instructor and looking to moonlight as a flying teacher, with choppers as his retirement plan.

“I got, as they call it, bit by the bug,” Snapp said. “It’s just so fun. I decided that [flying] would be something fun to do like in 20 years when I stop slinging calculus.”

Snapp aspires to fly helicopter tours once he retires from teaching. Maybe he’ll fly tours to the volcanoes of Hawaii, he said, or the glaciers in Alaska. Or maybe he’ll move to Las Vegas and show people the Strip and the Grand Canyon from above.

“My flight instructor lives in Vegas and goes to the Grand Canyon five times a day,” he said. “He’s a little bored with it by now, but I figure if I start doing that when I’m 60, life could be worse.”

The only hurdle left for Snapp is the minimum time requirement: in order to get the Airline Transport Pilot Certificate, the highest level of certification and the one he would need to lead tours, Snapp needs upwards of 1,000 hours in the cockpit.

Snapp has 200 right now, and has had to pay for all of them. Now, he is looking to put his teaching license to good use and find a student to mentor, racking up hours all the while.

Since the flight instruction business is hard to break into, he’s searching on his own for someone who wants to learn to fly on nights and weekends. He cites someone he knows who wanted to learn to fly helicopters so that he could fly his friends to Mammoth on weekends as an example of a potential student.

“Some people just want to learn something new and different,” Snapp said.

He knows because that was what drew him to flight in the first place, and he’d like to help others try it themselves.

Though the road to his dream retirement job seems daunting, Snapp believes that he will be able to accomplish it, one step at a time.

“It’s exciting,” Snapp said. “It’s a little like, ‘will I ever get there?’ Looking at 20 years, but also looking at a 1,000 hours is a lot, but it’ll happen.”