Nurse, Turned Flight Instruction School Owner/pilot Extraordinaire

April 3, 2010

On a recent Sunday afternoon, this writer caught up with a successful woman business owner, whose flight instruction and general aviation business is physically located at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. But, how did Evelyn A. Carlson, a Nursing Instructor at St. John College in Cleveland, Ohio ultimately emerge as a partner in a Learn to Fly business on the West Coast and become a pilot extraordinaire. Here’s the story.

As an intermediate step, Carlson began to teach both Nursing and Flight Instruction as an Assistant Professor in two different departments at Kent State University, one of which was Technology (think Flying). Lyn commented that both of these teaching endeavors were not so dissimilar as they might seem at first glance. Sure, the data itself was different, but not the process. Both had scientific and technical aspects; each involved manipulating equipment; and both at times required instantaneous decisions.

Of course, as we age and experience a wide range of different life circumstances, a number of unexpected choices emerge. Just ask Lyn Carlson if that didn’t happen to her. Further, some of the chapters in our lives take place before age 50, while other parts of our life evolve later.

Along the way, Lyn served in the Peace Corps in Nyeri, Kenya, where she taught nursing. Further, during graduate school, Carlson received a National Institute of Health full scholarship and living expenses stipend. In 1974, Lyn completed her MSN from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. After completion of her Master’s degree, she initially began teaching nursing at the baccalaureate level. But, then, her love for flying plus her advanced degree combined to also allow her to teach flying in Kent, Ohio, too. At the time, Lyn was 35 years old.

For the next four years, Lyn arrived at the airport early in the morning, where she served as the flying instructor from 7 AM until Noon. Then, she would teach nursing in the afternoon. Finally, she would drive back to the School of Technology building on campus at the end of the day to serve as an assistant professor in Technology, where she taught the evening ground schools until 9 or 10 PM. What a schedule this dedicated teacher and flight instructor kept in those days.

As a pilot, she joined the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) in 1979 as member # 006905147. During 1981, Lyn won the Amelia Earhart Medal by finishing 1st place in one of the events at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association meet, which was held at the University of North Dakota. By 1982, Carlson was already listed in Who’s Who of American Women.

In her case, the circumstance, which led Lyn to move back to California “right back where she started from” went like this. Due to the declining health of her grandparents, who held a special place in Lyn’s heart, she returned to the Golden State to spend time with them and help care for them. Back in California, Carlson also began to hand out resumes and, ultimately, wound up as Chief Flight Instructor at Sunrise Aviation in Santa Ana, California. So, she stayed in Southern California, where her family had long established ties, which actually went back four generations.

After joining the team at Sunrise as partner and Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), Lyn helped to develop FAA Approved Flight Training Programs, which included the writing of ground and flight training syllabi, as well as getting them approved by the FAA. She also supervised the training given by more than 25 other flight instructors. As Chief Instructor, she was ultimately responsible for certifying all student school records for accuracy and compliance. She also gave flight instruction herself and was responsible for Stage Checks.

Of course, Carlson was also a strong influence on the growth at Sunrise Aviation from just two smaller, single-engine aircraft at the outset to its 32 aircraft plus 25 flight instructors today. Raised originally in Redwood City, California, Lyn spent every summer in Newport Beach. Like her parents, she too attended UCLA, where she earned her undergraduate degree in Nursing.

In her late 40s, Lyn actually flew solo across the Atlantic in a Rockwell 114 from El Monte, California to Guernsey, Channel Islands via Lakeland, Florida (where she stopped for tanking) to Gander, Newfoundland and Santa Maria in the Azores. Why had Carlson taken such a bold step? As a pilot, she was intent on getting everything possible out of her lifetime flying experience. This goal on her part made the trip inevitable.

Obviously, upon her return from this adventure, she became highly in demand as a speaker before local 99s in her area. The Ninety-Nines organization, which was founded in 1929 by 99 women pilots, existed then and now for the mutual support of its members. Not surprisingly, Amelia Earhart became the first president of one of these local groups in her area. During 1992 and 1993, Lyn continued to make additional motivational talks about flying solo across the Atlantic, while she also engaged in one-on-one teaching for men and women, who were considering the same type of flight.

Of special note, during 1995, Lyn Carlson was also chosen for the prestigious FAA National Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Winning at the local and regional FAA levels, the national selection committee was made up of representatives from all the major General Aviation organizations, which included the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the National Business Aircraft Association, the National Association of Flight Instructors, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association in addition to officials from the FAA itself. In fact, the entire process actually took four months to complete. What an honor for Lyn Carlson!

By 1998, Carlson had also added the additional title of Director of Training at Sunrise Aviation because her job duties and responsibilities also included student enrollment. Further, from 1995 until the present, Lyn has also administered the FAA computer knowledge exams in her area.

In addition, Lyn Carlson has also had the distinction of serving in each of the following capacities, which have included being a National Transportation Safety Board Consulted Party (during 1997-1998). In this instance, for example, Carlson reviewed data associated with a fatal student accident and wrote an official party report, which was included in the final accident write-up. Then, as an AOPA Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic Lecturer from 1997 until 2003, Lyn traveled throughout the US to present and discuss topics required by the FAA. One such topic was an in-depth review of 14 CFR Part 61: Certification for Pilots and Instructors. For its part, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is one organization authorized by the FAA to offer the required 16 hour Flight Instructor Refresher Courses needed to renew someone’s Flight Instructor Certificate. She also continues to serve as a Designated Pilot Examiner. In this capacity, Carlson gives Pilot Practical Tests for Private, Instrument and Commercial candidates (in airplanes). The examination, in this instance, includes both an oral and an in-flight practical test. The DPE position actually represents an appointment by the FAA and, as such, is considered a prestigious one in the flying community. While the FAA does give these tests, staffing does not permit them to do the majority of Practical Exam flights at the General Aviation level. Therefore, DPEs are designated by the FAA to examine for proficiency to determine who gets pilot certificates in many instances.

Dedicated nurse, teacher, college professor, flight instructor and trainer, Lyn Carlson has today returned to her home state of California to do what she really loves and what all of the experiences in her life have prepared her to do: teach and fly herself. Most of us cannot do either. But, for those of us who live in Southern California, who desire to learn to fly, Lyn Carlson and her company would be a great place to start.

After all, as Cessna used to comment in its ads of yesterday, “If I can fly, you can fly.”