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Carlsbad flight instruction earns high praise

CARLSBAD — After two area businessmen each recently earned his pilot’s license, their instructor, Jim Ballard, of Carlsbad, was button-popping proud of their performances.

“It’s such a huge accomplishment,” he said, “and flight school is expensive and demanding.”

Perhaps that’s why there haven’t been very many new pilots earn their ratings out of Carlsbad. But that may be changing.

One of the new pilots is Tony Alston, who works for Holly Energy and lives in Hagerman.

He has nothing but praise for Ballard and his flight training.

“In my opinion it’s the best instruction in southern New Mexico,” Alston said.

And it helps that Ballard works out of Cavern City Air Terminal, which has received extensive upgrades and renovation in the past few years, thanks to fixed base operator Chandler Aviation.

“The airport, hands down, is better here than back home in Wyoming, and better than most any of the surrounding airports,” said Richard Whicker, who operates RW Trucking from a yard on E. Greene Street.

He said Carlsbad offers more than even the former Air Force base in Roswell.

“Here there are not only long runways, but runways in all different directions,” Whicker said. That means a pilot can always find a runway where he can take off into the wind.

Both men went through more than a year of training — in the air and in the books — before reaching that all-important final test.

According to Whicker, the FAA tester is another pilot with thousands of flying hours. The process is more like an interview than a traditional test.

“They just talk about the plane, making sure you are able to discuss accurately and fully any topic such as weight and balance, or fuel load and elevation,” he said. They go over maps, to make sure the student knows what’s there.

And of course, there is the final flight with the tester riding along.

Ballard sees getting ready for the test as a team effort by him and the student.

It is mandatory that student pilots do three hours of practical test preparation with their instructor before the final test, Ballard explained.

After one of these prep sessions, Ballard recalled, “I told (the student pilot), ‘What you just did is what makes me proud to be an instructor.'”

As for Whicker, he said that “when Ballard said ‘You’re ready for the test,’ I thought ‘I’m glad one of us thinks so.'”

There’s one thing that’s usually common among licensed pilots: They have been fascinated by planes and flying for most of their lives. That is true of Ballard and his two latest pilots. And when the time was right, each man seized the opportunity to learn to fly.