Today’s Flight Plan
Today we are joined by Steve Thorne of FlightChops fame. Steve is a top notch video guy that does some fantastic work that is available on his Youtube Channel.
These videos are packed with great information, awesome stories, and inspiration to keep on flying.
We get an inside look into Steve’s operation of the channel, and what it takes to keep on putting out such great videos.
This is also a rare opportunity to learn more about how Steve got started in aviation.
Steve Thorne (FlightChops)
Huge thanks to Steve aka FlightChops for joining us on this episode of AviatorCast. Keep up the awesome work, Steve. Can’t wait to see what this next year brings!
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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Sharpen your chops and pull the chucks. This is AviatorCast episode 51!
Calling all aviators, pilots and aviation lovers, welcome to AviatorCast, where we close the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Climb aboard, buckle up and prepare for takeoff. Here’s your host, Chris Palmer.
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators. You’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. I love flying in all seasons. There’s nothing quite like a winter morning while flying, the late sunrise on a crisp freezing morning, the orange glow of the sunrise just behind the snowcap boots. But really, any time of year is a great time to go flying. I’m the founder and owner of Angle of Attack, a flight training company which is bringing you this podcast today. AviatorCast is a weekly podcast where we talk about the spirit of the aviator. We believe flying is an art form, one that we have to continually practice and master. This mastery is gained through a focus on continual learning, human factors, humility, and a commitment to excellence. Show notes, transcript, community discussion and links for this episode can be found by simply going to AviatorCast.com.
So welcome to this, the 51st episode of AviatorCast. We are almost to our 52nd episode which will be a full year of AviatorCast. We are almost there but not quite and we have a great show lined up for you guys today. As always, we start off with a review from iTunes. Today this comes from Bobin Tripo from Macedonia. And he says “Too young, five stars.” He says “Hi, I’m Bobin from FYROM and I love aviation but I’m too young to be a pilot so I’m a simviator. I hope to be a pilot one day. Love the podcast you do. Keep up the great work.”
So that’s really awesome. A review all the way from Macedonia. Thanks Bobin for the great review. We hope that you enjoy being a simviator or a flight simmer, flight sim user, and that you can practice your skills there and someday take over that knowledge to a real aircraft and we encourage you to go for that dream.
So today, we have a very awesome show lined up for you. We have Steve Thorne with us. Now, you probably don’t know that name but you will probably recognize the name FlightChops. Steve runs a YouTube channel called FlightChops and does a fantastic job of depicting his everyday, maybe not everyday, but his experiences as a private pilot. His mantra is kind of he is a weekend warrior private pilot, he wants to be safe, he wants to remain humble, he wants to keep learning and he wants to share those experience with others. He has a fantastic YouTube channel. Lots of great information in many different areas of flying. He has talked about the fear of flying. He has done stuff on getting his tailwheel endorsement. He has done stuff on doing ski flying, VFR into IMC, all of these different subjects and it’s a great, great channel to watch. You’ll definitely be hooked on it once you find it.
So before we got started with the show, make sure you go over there and check it out. That’s just on YouTube and his username is FlightChops. Or you can go to FlightChops.com. That’s another location you can find it. We are excited to have him on the show. So here is Hangar Talk with Steve Thorne from FlightChops.
Now, a special hangar talk segment…
Chris: Alright everybody, we are honored to have Steve Thorne with us today, or as most of you know him as FlightChops. How you doing Steve?
Steve: Doing well. Thanks for having me.
Chris: Yeah, no problem. So you are coming to us from where?
Steve: Toronto, Ontario Canada.
Chris: Right on. Quite a different timezone from Alaska. So what’s flying like this time of the year there in Toronto?
Steve: Hit and miss. When it is really cold and crisp, it can be beautiful but early winter can also be a total drag which is how it went this year. A lot of down days where it was just smoky gray, mixed precip, just ugly, but we do get some super awesome clear crisp days where the airplane just loves to perform. I like this season. I like flying in the winter. It’s very different. Summer flying can be a drag right when it’s really hot and humid. You cook your passengers before you get going and they’re like “Why can’t we cool down?” It’s like “Well, once you get going, the airflow will cool us down, but there’s no air conditioning.” So yeah, I kind of like winter flying.
Chris: Yeah. There’s plus and minuses to everything. Of course, those that are warm weather pilots think we’re crazy for liking cold weather but there’s nothing like an early morning winter flight. It’s just one thing that every pilot has to experience.
Steve: Yeah, for sure.
Chris: Alright. So the first question I always start out with is how did you fall in love with aviation? How did you get wrapped up in this crazy thing?
Steve: I can’t even answer it because it’s never been anything that I had a doubt about. I guess as a child, it was just a clear obvious thing like why wouldn’t you want to fly. So like as a little boy, yeah, airplanes were always a thing. My grandfather was a Spitfire pilot in World War II. I knew him briefly but he died when I was too young to really glean any sort of useful wisdom which is always sort of been a frustrating thing for me because I’m really the only pilot in the family now. My dad was vaguely into it but never followed up. He liked model airplanes or whatever and sort of guided me that way a little bit as a boy but getting it done was all me by myself and the community became my flying family, like there was really no uncle or dad or brother. I am always jealous of people that I hear talking about that sort of thing. It drives me crazy when they don’t avail themselves of it. It’s like “Yeah, my uncle is a pilot. I guess it’s cool.” It’s like “What? I would’ve been totally flying with my uncle if I had an uncle that was a pilot.” So it just kind of was a thing that I always knew I wanted to do and I just finally just got it done.
Chris: So, was your grandfather, was he a Canadian pilot or did he immigrate over from England?
Steve: He was Canadian. I guess the way it worked is the Canadian Air Force, they went over for training and he did the whole thing. There were some stories about him crashing one on takeoff because somebody got on his way when he was on the takeoff roll and he had to take off early. He saved the other airplane but he totaled his but he didn’t get hurt. But yeah, I wish I could actually have better stories but I don’t I just vaguely know it was fact and it happened and he never really talked about it much to anybody else and he died when I was too young to ask any smart questions about it.
Chris: And there aren’t any memoirs around or anything, anything you can read or and old helmet or…
Steve: No, it’s weird. It’s sort of lost in the family history. It’s very strange. I don’t have a lot of good clues about it. Although there is an online, you can buy decals for Spitfire models and they actually used my grandfather’s tail number and everything for one of the particular layouts. That was fun. One of my relatives is looking to getting a tattoo and found that information but that’s the way he found it to confirm the tail number and it was actually the right airplane and it’s crazy that that’s how he had to find it.
Chris: That’s wild. Out of all the airplanes, that one. So tell us about the beginning days of your training.
Steve: So I started, my first failed attempt was as like an 11 or 12-year-old, doing air cadets in Canada. If you join the air cadets, you learn how to fly, it’s the kind of what it sold to you and it does do that a little bit but it’s a lot of military stuff kind of built in with a lot of time spent marching and learning how to polish boots and I wasn’t into that. So in the end, it just didn’t work for me. My personality was not a military personality. I’m not knocking it, I’m just saying that it wasn’t for me. And as soon as you don’t excel on that level, you’re instantly out of the running for like the tiny percentage that gets the scholarship where the training gets paid for. As soon as I kind of realized I was out of the running for that, now I’m just polishing boots and marching and I’m not going to be getting my training.
I also did the math of how much time I had to spend in the air cadets to get the 3000ish-dollar sort of scholarship at that time what it was worth in the early 90s to get a private license. So I got a part-time job as a teenager and made that money pretty fast. Unfortunately, then I was 16 and a car was a better idea at that time. So I had a car as a 17-year-old and that was a distraction from flying. But luckily I had a girlfriend that understood what my real true passions were and she kind of pushed me and got me into a flight in around first year university, kind of woke me back up into it and I just jumped on it at that point because I had the money, I had the time as a student. Just treated it like another course and I did most of it during first year university and the summer between second and first year and I had the license in second year university. So I guess I was 21 or something like that.
Chris: Cool. So did you learn right there in that area?
Steve: Yeah. Most of my training was in Southern Ontario, yeah.
Chris: Okay. And what type of airplane did you fly when you first learn to fly?
Steve: So I actually started with gliding. So I soloed in a Schweizer 233. Just a real beat-up old high wing tin can. It’s kind of amazing that thing even flew. It just looks so unaerodynamic. But it had a reasonable glide ratio. I actually did some pretty good solos in it. I had a great experience where I soloed it for like two hours and only came down because I had to go to the bathroom. And then the next day, literally the next day, it was the same kind of weather conditions and I had that cocky student thinking you’re doing type feeling and I did the same thing but I dumped off the tow. Normally they tow you a 2000 and you pay it per 500-foot increments. It was good thermals again so I dumped off the tow at 1500 in a thermal and kind of about not really climbing. It wasn’t a strong a thermal as it was a day before and I was dodging around from cumulus to cumulus trying to get thermals going and I just was not climbing. I wasn’t descending either but I spent like 15 minutes like limping around at 1500 feet. I think I got to like 2000 but then I realized how far away from the field I was. Because the previous day, I got to like 5000, it was up there just blasting. Long story short, I did my first off-airfield landing. I had to fully apply the training.
And what was cool about that experience it happened early on for me, is that I learned how scary it is until you remember to snap into your training because I was very scared while I was desperately trying to get the altitude to make it back to the field. And I realized it ain’t gonna happen. I need to snap out of this and I got to deal with this situation I’ve been handed here or the situation I pulled myself in. So basically I took a deep breath and then went into the training and I did the best landing I’ve ever done. I made a radio call to tell them what was happening, there I was, and there was another guy higher up that kind of saw where I went. It was perfect, I saw the field, I saw a dark kind of area perpendicular to the field if you can imagine and I thought that might be a ditch so I’m going to make sure I have the airplane stopped before I get to that and there was a fence at the approach end, put it down right where we wanted to. It was beautiful, the grass was kind of thick, kind of stalks of some kind of crop that had been recently harvested.
I could feel the stalks beginning to hit the main wheel and just held it, held it, held it, held it and then it just stalled in so slowly and it was just the best landing I’ve ever done. It just came to a nice stop and then a tow plane flew by. The thing is, you get punished, when you do an outfield landing, they have to bring a truck and take the wings off and you got to buy everybody beer and stake and it’s a big punishment sort of thing. It’s lighthearted but it’s not cool especially if you’re a student. It’s one thing if you’re a crosscountry glider pilot and you have to do a land out they call it then fine but not as a student. That should not be happening. It wasn’t cool.
But the tow pilot came in. he actually did a low pass and so on with his Citabria and landed there and walked over me and he’s like “You want to fly it out?” And I was like “Nope.” He’s like “Yeah. It’s cool. I figured.” So he had someone with him in the plane. So they flew it out and the truck came and got me and I got saved from the punishment because the airplane didn’t have to be taken apart so he kind of saved me from that humiliation. Although there were a couple of the older guys that were not impressed with me for that but whatever. It was one of those experiences when you’re young and it really taught me early on that it is okay. It’s not awesome but it’s doable, right? I took that with me for all the rest of my flying. It’s like “I can land a Cessna in a field if I have to.”
Because you get trained to do it but the idea is that I’m pretty sure that most people that are faced with it, that’s partly why they end up desperately trying to get back to the airport. It’s just this idea of putting a Cessna in a field is scary and you really don’t want to do it, right? So a lot of guys I think make the wrong decision of really fighting to make it back to the airport when they probably should just put the airplane down in a good field, just pick a good field while you still the altitude, get it done.
Chris: You’re totally right. And it’s too bad that these days with insurance and things like that, that they actually can’t teach that in initial training because it’d be so useful to come up with an agreement with some local farmer or whatever to be able to have a student actually do a full down landing in a field like that just to see what it’s like.
Steve: We’re actually lucky here. We have that going on. There’s a place called Charlie’s Field just sort of west of the field that I train at and that’s where I did all my tailwheel training into. They actually do it with gear with an instructor on board. They actually let the students land on grass and it really helps them understand it’s not the end of the world. You obviously need to make sure it’s not soft or something. That’s one thing, when you’re in the air, you look at a beautiful green field from 2000 feet. When you get there, you realize it’s six-foot high corn stalks, it’s going to be a bad day. So you do need to learn about what to look for at what time of year and so on.
So basically I moved on into power flying. I did one season of gliding which I’ve always wanted to get back into but it is a thing where you have to spend a whole day. You got to go up there in the morning, help get the planes out and you got to do wing running and so on. So you get one or two flights in but you really just can’t show up, fly and leave, right? And when your life is a bit busier, it is hard to get that kind of a schedule. I’m trying to figure out how to make that happen because soaring is an amazing way to fly. I might go back and start look at tow pilot flying. That’s something that appeals to me, so if I can join a gliding club and do some tow flying, that’d be pretty awesome.
Chris: Yeah, that’d be great.
Steve: But anyway, so the second season of my actual flying was move on into power when I first started my training, and I was flying a Cessna-150 and did my whole private and everything solid and power in a 150 and then I moved on to 172 after getting my license.
Chris: That’s similar to what I did. I learned in a 152 and then moved on to a 172 from there with an old Johnson bar for the flaps. And what’s your history like from there? So you got your PPL…
Steve: Yeah. So as a university student, got my license, made some flying friends that also got their license at around that time. The first thing we did was take a 172 to Florida from Toronto which is pretty epic trip. So we almost had no experience, three guys didn’t know what they’re doing, bought a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter because we had no money. We had friends to stay with in Florida. We did the flight planning that has made it seem like we could do it in one day and it looked possible but of course that didn’t happen VFR so we end up being stuck in Philadelphia with a quasi stationary front just hanging over us for days. But it was a cool experience. As we were kind of approaching Philadelphia and realizing this is kind of where we’re going to be stopping, we made a decision to go to international and at that time it really wasn’t a problem. It’s like small airport over there, five miles, or the international is that way. Let’s just go there. It’s bigger with more facilities. It was the right decision because we end up having our little 172 parked between all these jets and slept on leather couches in the pilot’s lounge.
We met all these international guys and corporate guys that were coming and going and kept seeing us still there in day two, and they were kind of helping us with charts and saying like “Yeah, I just came in from Houston. There’s a bit of a hold this way but it’s really not moving.” It was awesome. We got some corporate jets that were parked. We just made friends with these guys and really kind of showed how the community, despite your rank or your experience level, there’s this camaraderie and it was quite funny to see this 172 parked literally the only small plane with all these business jets and everything by the FBO.
So it was a good experience. It wasn’t the experience we thought it would be. We got to Florida but we had like literally one and a half days to stay before we had to turn back around because of when the plane is due back for a rental, right? So it wasn’t the trip we thought it would be but ended up being about the flight which kind of was what it was supposed to be anyways but it also confirmed that poster you see when you go to get your private license with the golf clubs in South Carolina like “Go fly and take your friends golfing.” It ain’t like that. Definitely for general aviation, for VFR, the flight is the trip and if you happen to get to where you’re going and you actually get to stay there for as much time as you thought then great but you cannot expect it to be convenient. And also because I had that experience early on, I had a lot of friends asking me in University like “Hey man, can you fly me home? I live in Ottawa like three hours away. It’s a five-hour drive type of thing and we could fly there quickly.” And the answer was always probably I can get you there or I can pick you up but it’s doubtful I can do both. Don’t expect me to drop you on Friday and pick you up on Sunday. It’s just not likely going to happen.
So yeah, I had that kind of wisdom somewhere early on. I think that trip to Florida really helped me there and flying to all these unfamiliar airports and unfamiliar air space and that was way before digital anything, like we had not even a digital camera. It was in 1996 I guess. Digital cameras were just being born around that time. So anything was paper and analog cameras and we just got like 45 photographs of our trips sort of thing and everything was navigated on paper. It was a good experience man but I’m glad it’s not like that anymore because I love digital flying now. It’s just so much easier to have the awesome situational awareness without being distracted by so much preflight planning and inflight planning trying to deal with paper charts. That was a great experience but mane our budget got blown just buying all the charts to get from here to Florida, you know what I mean?
Chris: Yeah exactly.
Steve: Like we had to stack the charts. Crazy.
Chris: Yeah. I think that’s a transition that a lot of people are still kind of holding on to. It’s like they still hold on to their paper charts and they still hold on to their huge flight plan on paper before they actually go. Their E6B, they’re still holding on to that. It’s like you know what, you’ve got an iPhone, you’ve got an iPad, you’ve got everything you need right there. What’s the point of making it hard on yourself? You have limited brain power to be able to spend on a flight, there’s no reason why with all these tools you should be spending that energy on some of those menial tasks that can be handled with things like ForeFlight these days so yeah definitely. Kind of crazy that it’s changed that fast but not only are glass cockpit so common these days but also just by virtue of having an iPad, you have almost everything you need just right there as far as avionics. It’s pretty crazy.
Steve: Yeah. It is crazy. Like just getting back into recurrency around, because I had a couple of years off when life got in the way, I got a house, having a baby, all that kind of stuff. So between about 2006 and 2010, I had a period of almost no flying. I got back into some recurrency flying around 2009 and that was where I had this battle with myself of what do I need to relearn here because I got to get back into the old paper chart and the old flight planning with calculating my wind drift and my check point arrival times and all that sort of stuff and I happily did a review and did all that stuff but then I’m like “But damn.” I mean really? Because I got GPS, I had a handheld GPS at that time and then I got the iPad around that time as well and started playing with ForeFlight. It’s like “I don’t know man. I know where I’m going. I know when I’m going to get there and I have a backup so how much energy should I spend on the preflight planning that’s probably going to change anyways three hours later when the wind is different?”
So it was a battle that I had and I’m still having now that I’m getting into IFR training. I’m trying to learn it the old way. I want to know how to do it the old way but the reality of it is once I have my license and once I’m IFR-rated, I’m not going to fly that way. And it’s not like I’m going to go fly approaches to minimums and everything the minute after I get my certificate but I’m going to look it like a license to fly in marginal VFR and slowly get better but I’m going to be using these digital tools that are not available to me and it just seems like… So where do you draw that line of how much of the preflight planning do you do old school style because that’s the way you were thought. So I’m trying to develop a syllabus with my instructor I think. I’m getting back into my IFR training. I started it last year, kind of stalled a little bit there for a few months and then turned into six months but I had a good summer of tailwheel flying so I can’t say I regret it but this winter I’m going to get back into it and try to look at it like I’m a church student-type approach. I’m not a college student that’s going to be a professional pilot. I don’t need to follow a college syllabus. I can create my own personal one and I want to build in this kind of new world of training into it where it’s modern tools that are available.
And then for the flight desk, it’s that debate also of like so now, why would I not do the flight test the way I’m going to fly? I think I want to approach the examiner that way and say “Here’s the deal. This is my tool. This is what I use. I have everything on paper if I need it but if I had to go to back to paper, it means some bad shit happened.” My batteries failed three times because I have a main iPad, a secondary iPad and an iPhone. Did the satellites go down because if that’s the case, then there’s a lot of worse crap going on than my little flight. So if all that stuff failed, if I have to go back to paper, I’m probably going to change my plans. I’m no longer enjoying my flight. I’m going to probably call ATC and say “Hey man, everything just failed on me. I got paper but I’m going to divert and cancel so can you help me?” Not that I need help per se but I’ll get back there and I’ll just change my flight plan. And if the examiner doesn’t like it and is like “Wow, okay. Let’s go try this flight test on paper but it’s not real. The minute I have the certificate, I’m not going to do this.” I don’t think most guys do it out there, right? It’s a really weird time of transition and I feel like any day now, it’s got to happen where the training starts to integrate these things right? It’s got to happen if it isn’t yet. Although it’s amazing that the FAA has accepted it as an electronic flight bag. I think that to me blew my mind that it didn’t take 10 years for that to happen. They got it done reasonably quickly which was pretty impressive.
Chris: Yeah. You know, in a large sense, training is very far behind and I think it always will be. I think technology is so far ahead of regulatory, I don’t know, the regulations catching up with where the technology is that there’s just no way that it’s going to get fixed in the way that it currently is. You know how bureaucracy is, it’s probably not going to change anytime soon. I think that your approach is perfect and that’s actually what I did with my instrument training, is I actually planned on using my instrument ticket quite a bit. I was going to fly in instrument conditions. That was my plan. I talked about this a couple episodes back, but I actually failed my first instrument checkride. I didn’t bother doing it again because I realized I need to approach this situation completely different. I’m not just getting this ticket, I’m going to be using this to fly in instrument conditions and I’m going to have my family and friends on board and things like that. I need to approach this from a competency, in a confidence perspective, not just getting my ticket. I waited until the time was right and I got my instrument ticket and when I did that, I went to the examiner.
You kind of go through your instructor to go to the examiner but I basically just said “I plan on using my instrument ticket. I have a lot of training already. I’ve done a course at flight safety. I’ve gone to the west coast, the Unite States and I’ve flown in actual instrument conditions with my instructor. I have a lot of actual instrument hours already. I plan on using my ticket. Here is how I am going to plan as a pilot. These are the tools I’m going to use and this is what I want to use in my checkride. And he was actually really cool with it. I think there are definitely examiners out there that will approach it from that perspective. At the end of that day, their job is to make sure that you’re safe. There’s really nothing that says that you have to write a flight plan. You just have to have a flight plan.
Steve: Right. So I have faith that if I demonstrate exactly what you’re saying, if I demonstrate what I’m going to do once I have the ticket, and I say I want to do the flight test within that context, I think it will work but anyway, that’s what I’m going to try. But going back all the way to private training and the idea of just getting your ticket, that’s a great sort of thing that you kind of come up with when you’re mature is to realize that it’s not just getting the ticket.
I have this really vivid memory the day after I got my license. I ended up moving to a place that was a little further away for some of my trainings as my girlfriend was going to school, it’s like an hour and a half drive from Toronto but it worked out well because I was there for weekends and I did a bunch of flying on weekends to get it done. So I had an hour and a half commute from the airport to get home. So after doing my checkride, I was on the drive home, stopped off at one of the local restaurants in the highway on the way back and I was exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally. My checkride had been pushed because I booked it for the morning to get it done. The wind was high, I couldn’t do it, but the examiner was like “It’s cool. I’m going to be around so let’s just try in a few hours.” I’m like “Great. I can’t eat. I’m so nauseous and nervous.”
So I kind of did my flight test with basically a hypoglycemic attack sort of. I just had like a bowl of soup at the FBO restaurant. And again, I was low-budget student. I did it in minimums but only by fooling my instructor into believing was confident sort of thing. But my objective always look like you know what you’re doing, look like you know what you’re doing, and I go figure how to do it sort of thing. So I did a lot of like getting signed off for things. Not to say that it was unsafe but it’s just that there’s no reason to fight to do it in minimums like that. At that time, I guess I was telling myself I guess it was a budgetary thing.
Anyway, the point is I have this memory of getting this burger and sitting at this diner by myself and looking at it and there was my temporary sign permit siting there on the table and I’m like “I can’t eat this burger. I have had nothing all day and I’m dying to eat it but my stomach isn’t ready for it,” and why did I put myself through that process essentially all the way through my training where I was pushing myself so hard. I wasn’t really enjoying it. And here I am having done it and I had this “What do I do now?” moment and I very clearly remember it like “I did it.” I have achieved this thing but wow, I didn’t enjoy the process as much as I should’ve and that’s entirely my doing. I just put myself under so much pressure.
So it was a pretty pivotal moment for me and it was very clear memory that I’ve tried to take with me from then on with any further flying, training or anything. I’ve always tried to enjoy it regardless of how stupid I feel at any given time with brain mush. Instead of like fighting through it, I just acknowledge it and laugh about it, like when you are doing a lesson where you’re like “Wow. I’m so not on board right now, that’s it’s so far ahead of where I’m at and that’s okay, you’re going to get there.” Just enjoy it instead of like fighting because that’s what I did. I would always fight to catch up with the airplane when I fell behind it during that last whatever with the instructor and I would always try to kind of deny my true mental state which was like 90% brain mush and 10% focus. You know what I mean, where you just, that happens, it’s going to happen, it’s unavoidable. That’s what training is all about.
So yeah, I’m now facing that with instrument training which is way far outside of my comfort zone. I’m more of an intuitive kind of artsy guy so I love tailwheel flying this summer. I just can’t say how much I love that. Anyone who asks about it, I just go on and on. It’s just every bit of it, I loved it. All of it. The training was just non-stop awesome. Never felt like I don’t get it or this is really frustrating, can I do it. Whereas with instrument training, that’s often how I feel. It’s like what do I do but then you get there. Like I remember that was how I felt with hold entries, trying to get my head wrapped around that stuff and then I got it, it’s like “Okay.” And you just got to realize you are going to get it and some of it will be hard and at that time, it will seem impossible but anyway, I’m trying not to fight it. I’m trying to enjoy it and within the context of instrument flying and all that complicated sort of stuff, it’s harder to look at it that way but if you could step aside and see what you’re doing and just kind of remember how surreal it is and how amazing it is that we can this stuff, it’s enjoyable. So that’s my mantra as I head into instrument training, is enjoy it. No matter how hard the lesson seems or whatever, just enjoy it.
Chris: Exactly. And in general aviation training, there’s this mantra that you have to be perfect, that you have to do every stage perfect, that you have to nail your first landing, that you have to do your first steep turn, whatever it is, your first hold entry, whatever it is, you have to do it perfect. And then when you go and do your checkride, you have to do your checkride perfect. And it just makes everyone so nervous and uptight all the time. You really should be enjoying the process like you said. You should be enjoying the journey and you should be embracing those situations where you do have setbacks. Because there are lessons there every single time that will help you as a pilot later on. If you just ignore them and brush over them, then you’re not going to come away with the full lesson that you could have.
Steve: That became accidentally what my whole FlightChops thing became. Because after leaving the training world and again being a mature pilot coming back into it in 2009 where I got my license like 13 years ago I guess at that point because now I’m close to 20 years of having my private. I’m coming back into it as a rental private weekend warrior who is going to do some recurrency training to get back, but then, then what? Each flight that I do is just me flying around and I can either look at it like that or I can look at each flight as an unofficial training flight which is what I decided to do. Because I mean, if you don’t think of it that way, like you’re basically solo practicing even though you’ve got your permanent right? Like, that’s kind of the way I try to remember to look at it like.
So I always took detailed notes after each flight regardless of how routine it was, there would always be a page of notes and maybe a third of them would be stuff I thought I did well and I would make note of it, like that went well and I was impressed that I remember this or whatever. But then two-thirds of it would be thing that I knew I could fix. And then of course, once I got a GoPro, it blew my mind to look back at something where I would think it was a good flight and then I would look at the footage and then of course you’re objectively sitting at your desk and you can see it without being there having to perform and then you’re really seeing what you did and didn’t do properly.
And so initially it was me just kind of doing my own self-analysis and the next year it was some of my local pilot friends, like “Hey man, check this out. I just noticed a small thing that’s going to change everything for me” and by applying that thing which I didn’t realize at that time. And just based on the reaction of some of my friends that were enjoying, sharing the lesson with me, that was kind of where I decided to just make it more public. And again, having watched enough YouTube videos, my biggest complaint about aviation online has been the lack of context and a lot of these videos kind of appear to be delivered as instructional and it’s not necessarily the fault of the person that’s putting it out there, it’s simply because they haven’t got the ability to edit, so I just kind of upload the video. That’s them showing you how to do something because it’s them doing it. It appears to be demonstration but they’re not a qualified instructor. And then you have all these comments in the comment thread of people like tearing it apart of people agreeing, thinking it’s the right way and then it’s like “Oh no.”
So I was like if I do this, I need to do it in such a way that I make it super clear that I’m just a dude that’s just trying to get better. I’m not an instructor, and I’m just sharing the lessons that I’m learning as I’m on my constant quest to improve. Being a professional editor, I have the advantage where I can edit things and add context and add voiceover and add on screen text. So I try as hard as I can to precritique this stuff. I essentially think of what the comment thread if going to be and put it in the voiceover, so there’s just nothing left for people to attack or question. Or I try, obviously I never catch it all and that’s why it’s cool to have a comment thread that gets constructed where people kind of add to it instead of guess at it or armchair fly it. I don’t leave them the room for that or I try not to. That’s my objective.
Chris: I guess that’s kind of the startup story of FlightChops then, is you just had these own experiences that you were kind of filming and stuff and you wanted to share those experiences, is that right?
Steve: Yeah. I mean, basically coming back at it, like a mature pilot that’s now recurrent again and trying to fight to stay current, that’s it. It’s just me trying to find excuses to go flying and most of the time it’s just a random little trip or just a local flight taking someone up or whatever and just using each flight as a training flight. And I still jump into training more often than probably most weekend warriors to do because I’m just jumping at different airplane types or picking up a different rating. So it just seemed organically to evolve that way and again I’m so glad that I did the tailwheel endorsement when I was in full FlightChops mode, so at that point, like beginning in that process, I had more than one camera and I had in some cases like six cameras rolling so I really got it covered well. So I feel like I caught probably one of the most pivotal flying experiences ever was getting tailwheel endorsed and I really feel like I captured it well so being able to share it, it’s been very rewarding.
A lot of people have commented back to me, saying “You inspired me to do it” and yeah, it was a game-changer. I always kind of knew it would be cool but you can’t really talk about it until you do it to understand the stick and rudder, true flying that it’s happening when you have a center of gravity that’s behind you, you try to land and take off. It requires you to be really on top of your game with the rudder. It makes everything better for all your other flying. So that’s pretty cool. I was really happy to do that.
Chris: That’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed about FlightChops, is that you are doing different things. You’re not just flying a 172 all the time or whatever, you’re actually going out there and seeking different experiences and trying different things. Honestly, I think that’s an attitude that we should all have. We should all be trying to dive into different areas. You’ve done Super Cub on wheels and you’ve done it on skis. I really want to learn how to fly on skis. I think that’d be just awesome. So you’ve had all these little different things that you’ve been trying. And those little different experiences, they add to a body of knowledge into not only stick and rudder skills but to just a knowledge of the airplane as a whole that is unique by having those different small experiences.
Steve: Yeah. Well, I had a buddy that was only flying 172s and being a weekend, warrior, he had a feeling that he didn’t want to try a different airplane until he mastered the 172. That was kind of his feeling without really the wisdom to know with why he was thinking that way. Early on, I did jump around, like I start with soaring and then I get into the 172s and then I quickly flew some PA-28s. So I had like three or four types under my belt early and I knew early on that the fundamentals are always there but when you know the subtle differences between airplanes, you quickly feel the subtle difference. So it actually strengthens your fundamentals. It’s just like driving. When you get into a different car, you quickly like deal with the mirror is in a different spot, blah, blah, blah, okay, and then you’re good to go. It just makes you more confident to jump around between types, obviously get the training or whatever.
But yeah, when you notice why a PA-28 lands a little differently because the ground effect cushion happens slightly differently with the low wing, it’s just you apply it when you’re flying a high wing kind of instinctively later. Anyway, so I did get that buddy to fly the PA-28 and he got checked out and he quickly realized, yeah, it’s cool to have different muscle memory. It expands your fundamentals in a way that it’s never a bad idea to fly more than one type. But I can see why some people might think that you should focus on one thing just because it’s flying an airplane, you really need to know what you’re doing. You don’t want to get confused and reach for the wrong switch, but yeah, okay, I mean the fact is once you remember, when you get into a different airplane, you always take that moment to remind yourself, and yeah, there’s always that brief second of muscle memory where you might reach for like the trim is in a different spot in a 172 than it is in a PA-28 or in my case jumping between tailwheel and nosewheel, it’s very different where you’re flying with your left hand instead of your right hand and your throttle is your left hand instead of your right hand so that’s quite different. But it’s the fundamentals are still wired into you and it just helps make you better overall for sure.
Chris: Yeah. Tell us about some of those experiences through your videos. So talk about some of the videos you have on your YouTube channel.
Steve: So I guess like the first one that became popular was again a classic case of a routine flight that was anything but. It was a just a very short flight in a 172 that kind of got me caught out essentially going VFR into IMC. There’s this snowsquall like a lake effect snow thing that was not forecast and it got further south than it was supposed to and suddenly I found myself really getting into a bit of a pickle quickly. It was quite close to my homebase and I was always almost there, and the classic gethomeitis. All that stuff was happening. It all happened so fast. Obviously I survived it but the experience I took away from it was I should have just done the damn 180. And I knew that at that time.
So I made a video walking through all of it because I had the cameras rolling and it turned out to be a pretty good one that a lot of people could relate to. I talked to my instructor before I released it saying like “Am I asking for trouble here” because technically I didn’t go illegal and the control tower was awesome because when I asked for an update when I was about five miles away feeling like I was in two miles of visibility, I said “I feel like I’m in two miles visibility, what are you guys reporting?” And he specifically said “I’m showing 3 miles.” He said it very clearly to say you’re not going to need to ask for special VFR. That’s my opinion on it. I think he was being friendly to say “You’re going to be okay. Just keep flying the airplane. I’m not going to make it hard for you right now” because he probably could tell I was stressed out.
Because he said it’s less than three. All of a sudden now it’s IFR, I can’t go in. It was a control zone obviously so I would have had asked for special VFR and they can’t offer it to you, right? I guess that’s the way it works with special VFR. You have to ask for it. And I probably at that point would have been flustered enough that I might not have thought to ask for it. So he made it not illegal essentially. Because they were reporting three but the face is it wasn’t that you know how it is, the report is different than what’s happening especially with the snowsquall like that, it’s happening and changing so fast, and when I landed, I just immediately called the flight service center and made a PIREP and they said “We appreciate that because these things are changing so fast right now with this particular snowsquall.” It was parked right over Toronto. It was beautiful VFR anywhere like 5 miles and in direction kind of thing and it sucked right in like literally over the airport.
So that was a really unique kind of experience. I’m glad I captured it. It took me a long time to decide to share it and at that time, it was one of the most amount of labor that I put into editing a video because I just layered the crap out of it with context, right?
Chris: Yeah. That’s the first video I remember seeing of yours.
Steve: Yeah. That one got around. So the channel started gaining traction around that time and I started deciding like “Shit, I continue to put this much work into them.” So I kind of intermittently did. None of the videos are just uploaded without cutting but I wasn’t spending like three days editing videos until more recently consistently. My promise to myself was I’m not going to spend more than eight hours editing one of these things unless it’s special. So I’m like trying to deal like one and five would be like a three-day edit and the other ones would be just kind of like tight, reasonably well edited but I wasn’t going to spend more than a day on it. I can’t justify that amount of work, I got a day job.
But as it started to get more traction, I started feeling like it’s worth it, there’s enough viewership that it’s not paying off per se yet but I think I’m building something that again being freelance and doing what I do, it is the kind of thing that I could easily move in to as a job if I get enough traction with it. So I’m kind of building it that was slowly. But yeah, initially it was just sharing less. Like I didn’t bring crews out with me which I do more often now. I still can’t always because I don’t want to bring them up for free. They are friends and they are professional friends but I want to pay them. But they helped me out in the first year a lot for free so probably one in four videos was shot with a crew even in the first year so I got some pretty fun documentary style ones like The Fear of Flying one with my friend MJ.
That was hilarious because I was cocky and I got my butt handed to me by her fear. Like she was so just off the charts afraid. We probably all have that experience where someone is like “I don’t know. Are you sure it’s an airplane? It’s really small.” And then when she get them in, they loved it. It’s a beautiful sunset whatever. It just blows their mind. It always works right? But it did not work with MJ. And I took her up on a perfect beautiful calm night and that was part of the problem ultimately that she explained later was that the calm air made her feel like nothing was holding the airplane up, like anytime it was just going to drop. She didn’t tell me that until later because at that time, I probably would just slow down a little bit and then open the window and said “Check out that airflow. That’s like concrete man, we’re good.” But I didn’t have the experience to deal with it.
So she completely distracted me essentially and ironically created a self-fulfilling prophecy where her fear was becoming real because she was distracting her pilot and making an unsafe situation. I ended up getting myself into a bit of a wake encounter at the end of that flight with a dash-8 because I just wanted to end the damn flight. I didn’t fly an approach properly. I was a little shallow and I got into a wake. It wasn’t horrible but the fact is it could’ve been. My distraction was the reason. Like normally I would’ve known to avoid the wake better. I just didn’t care. I was just like I got to land. I got to get down.
So I shared that one. I made two videos out of it. Initially, I just made the wake encounter video because at that time I didn’t have the energy to cut the other more documentary style one but that one got a lot of hits and a lot of questions and so I said “Okay, I’m going to make the more documentary feel one with the actual flight” and I did a preinterview with her about leading up to it and then a postinterview of how she felt about it and kind of made it more documentary style. So I feel like that one is more representative of the real experience of dealing through fear. The first one had the context of saying her fear was kind of part of my problem, that’s partly why I wasn’t on top of my game. That’s been a popular one. It’s probably been one of the ones where I’ve been more bashed but even when I get bashed, it still represents a tiny percentage of the overall so I’m cool with it but I’ve learned from that experience, like knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t put the wake encounter video up the way I did. Like I didn’t put enough context into that one I don’t think because people were like… Again mostly they enjoyed the fact that I shared the experience candidly but of lot of guys were like what are you thinking aiming for the piano keys doing a normal shallow approach behind a dash-8, what are you thinking? It’s like well I thought I said I wasn’t thinking. That’s kind of what the whole video is about.
Chris: Yeah. These Monday Morning Quarterbacks. That’s got to be one of the harder things of having a YouTube channel. And you and I actually collaborated on a video too and I warned you…
Steve: I should be clear. That is my most popular video actually. The one what I call it the scariest takeoff I’ve ever seen because when I saw your footage from that flight, that’s how I felt about it. That is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen because it’s the scariest takeoff. It might as well have been a crash right? It wasn’t as close as you can get. So I made a very short video out of that that was purely, and we thought we did it right as far as nailing all the context and making it like this is the start to a conversation that you should have with your instructor or with yourself about personal minimums. I’m not going to get into what happened here specifically, it doesn’t matter. The fact is this Bonanza almost went into the trees, period, right? That’s like a 4-minute one, it’s a short one, and it’s had like over a quarter million views at this point. That one definitely gets the most problematic comments, again they still represent less than 10%.
And I put it in like three different times in less than four minutes to say Chris has an amazingly detailed breakdown of what happened here, so I’m not going to get into the details because that’s not what this is about from my perspective. It’s just about a visual reaction of having seen this and how it made me think about my personal minimums and what I would do when faced with a situation that may test me. That’s kind of all I wanted to do with that video and most people get it so I still think it was absolutely worth it.
Chris: Oh definitely.
Steve: But I would say every single day, I probably get one or two comments that I have to deal with on that one that are just people being negative about it.
Chris: Yeah. And you know, that’s the unfortunate thing about most of this, is that people aren’t learning from these experiences. Because I can tell you, I’m an average pilot. I’m not a good pilot and I’m not a bad pilot, I’m just an average pilot. And most people are that way. And if we’re not learning from our experiences, then we’re going to end up doing something stupid eventually that really can hurt us or kills us. And so I’ve gotten into one of those situations where something happened and it wasn’t necessarily my fault. It wasn’t anyone else’s fault. It’s just something happened. And if people ignore that lesson, then they’re missing the point. So I think that’s the more unfortunate thing that I see, stuff like that. Anything that can happen with you too, so…
Steve: Yeah, but like I said thought mathematically with that one, it’s over a quarter million views, most of the comments are good. I would say that I may have had in the entire lifetime of that video, I may have had like a hundred comments that are negative to deal with and that’s been over six months, right? So yeah, it’s annoying to have to deal with a hundred negative comments but there has been thousands of positive ones and hundreds of thousands of views where people just didn’t feel the need to say anything good or bad but they got thumbs up and so on.
Chris: Yeah. Hopefully they learned something and I think a lot of people did.
Steve: That’s what I mean. You can’t live long enough to learn all the lessons, right? That’s what flying is all about. We’re sharing each other’s experiences and yeah, you can’t learn everything yourself so you have to learn from other people’s experiences. I feel like it’s worth it. Definitely that one was obviously we knew going in that that was going to be a controversial thing to do, specifically naming it a searchable thing like scariest. It was on purpose because it is scary. It was probably the most click-baity thing that I’ve done. I don’t know that I would necessarily do click-baity sort of things now per say but it is what it is though, right? I couldn’t have named that differently because it’s legit. That is what it is and I still do collaborate videos occasionally with people like one that I have that is recently popular is about a guy having an electrical failure at night and having to deal with that where everything goes dark on.
Because again, he put that video up with no context and you had to watch like 8 minutes of footage before the failure happened but there was no kind of real context. He made wrote his description the best he could to make the context there and like a thousand people probably looked at that. When I saw that, I said “Hey man, do you want to do a thing where I can cut this down a bit and put a voiceover on it. Because that’s a great lesson. I just feel like it’s being missed because people aren’t quite getting it.” And he was more than happy and I did the same thing where I just upload the exciting part first in the first 15 seconds and then spent the next few minutes explaining what happened and what he did and what could’ve been done differently, and that one went well as well. I learned a little bit more about how to handle that sort of thing. Even though I thought we did yours right and I still think we did but there were still things that got attacked that they felt like I didn’t had enough context. And it’s like well you know, that’s why I said three times in this video go look at Chris’ insanely detailed breakdown.
People just don’t do it. They don’t want to read. So it’s hard when you make videos. That is the generation we’re dealing with. Everything has to be quickly consumed. So it’s a battle because flying and all the context you try to put in these things requires time but videos need to be quick and digestible. So it is tough. Originally I wanted to make videos 5 minutes to 10 minutes long. I’m finding myself landing in the 10 to 15 minute range now.
Chris: And then you had a followup to The Fear of Flying with MJ and then Rheema, and that was 21 minutes. It was awesome. I looked at it I said “21 minutes.”
Steve: Yup. I know right? And that’s the problem, you’re going to lose viewers right away when they see the running time and I knew that but I was like I can’t make this one shorter than 20.
Chris: But it was so engaging. I watched the whole thing, you know, it’s great.
Steve: Yeah I appreciate that. And I think a lot of people do but the bottomline is I knew when I published it, I’m like I have shot myself in the foot a little bit here because there will be people that will see the runtime and won’t even click on it. And it’s true because a lot of videos on YouTube aren’t worth your time. So what I’m trying to do is make it clear to people “This is worth your time. I put a lot of work into editing is.” So I established it early so if you make it through the first 30 seconds, you’re probably going to realize I actually am not going to waste your time here but I got to get you to watch those first 30 seconds. And when there’s a 21-minute runtime, they may not even click the thumbnail. It’s tough.
I really do commit not to go on over 20 minutes but that one particularly, I just didn’t have it in me, and partly in a specific way, that one was sponsored by the flight school. They didn’t flex or put any pressure on me about creative decisions but I felt like I don’t want to slaughter this lesson too much, like I don’t want to just make it a fun montage with smiling and “Oh yeah, well I’m turning.” I was like “You know what, I’m really going to let this play and let MJ’s lesson happen.” I mean the fact is it was 90-minute lesson. I still got it down to 21 minutes but I couldn’t go down any further without losing context to the point where I was like I’m just going to do it and yeah, I realized that I won’t get as many views on this on as I probably could simply because of that runtime. So it is tough man. It is tough.
Chris: Yeah. Honestly, it’s really a video for your followers. It may not be a video for new viewers but when I watched it, I know all the things Rheema was saying and I understand it all but it’s actually one of the more enjoyable videos for me because it came full circle with the story that had already kind of started on your channel with MJ’s first flight with the wake turbulence encounter and things like that. But she made so progress and you could like see it in her countenance. It was awesome. It was really, really great. So man, if you make over 20 minutes like that, I don’t care. Well I do care. I guess that’s what I’m saying and I think your viewers kind of feel the same way.
Steve: Well I appreciate that and I think that it’s true that I definitely have a core group of people that constantly asks for longer stuff but at the end of the day, I’m trying to find a balance where if I’m going to make this thing sustainable, I need to convince sponsors to pay for it. And in order to do that, I need the numbers. And I have reasonable numbers but they can better and I have to find that balance where like you said, that followup video probably isn’t for first time viewers even though the first couple minutes are quite engaging. But what I would hope is that if I got a first time viewer to look at it, I did make it really clear that this is a continuation of a story. You really need to watch the first part first. And the first one was pretty engaging, the documentary style one that I made more so than the wake encounter one which is kind of like a part two, like I sort of made a prequel after the fact sort of thing, like the wake encounter was the first one but then I made part one after the fact which is more detailed and then part three is the recent one.
But yeah, it’s that balance where I just need to find a way to do what I do with detail and context to keep it geeky and nerdy which ultimately is what most of us pilots want, get all the knots and bolts and don’t like close it over. That’s the problem with TV and I work in TV and I deal with that all the time where I argue with producers where I feel like I’ve seen. By the time we get it to where the network wants it, whatever essence it had in the raw footage is gone and it’s because it needs to happen in less than 3 minutes before we get to act two and the commercial break. I don’t have that problem per se because I don’t have to follow anybody’s rules here, that’s what I’m doing.
Chris: Which is nice.
Steve: It is nice and it is very liberating and that’s a huge part of what I get out of it because it’s like a vacation from work even though I’m still working. It’s literally the same thing I do at my day job but I don’t have anybody to answer to. I don’t have to fight with anybody. The irony though is that my friend James is a director and he’s been a huge help and he’s actually the guy that came up with a name. I give him full credit for that. Like it was during Movember, we were on steak dinner with a bunch of guys, that’s a thing we do every year and we’re just jamming on what I was doing at that time which I was just beginning to think about sharing it and I was rocking the chops as a joke for Movember. I’m a drummer as well so I’m always working on my drum chops, just trying to get better right, it’s the idea of practicing the chops.
And he was like “You need a brand that’s recognizable” and he came up with it like right there. And he’s been there all along like helping me make them and we constantly butt heads about creatively because he’s more of a TV guy. He’s like “You got to get to the meat fast man. You got to make it engaging.” I’m like “Yeah I know but I also need to make it nerdy.” So we have this great balance where he like gives in to my arguments and I give in to some of his so we find this balance where it’s really creative at the end and it still has a nerdiness that I want to have it in. So yeah, it’s been fun to make this thing that’s kind of it’s own formula but I still have rules I need to follow, the basic fundamental rules of keeping it engaging to maintain the viewership because again, any of the long ones always have a drop-off.
It’s good. I have a reasonably good flatline of viewer retention that stays even past 10, 15 minutes better than average. Like on YouTube, you can click this thing that’s organic or relative, there’s these two viewer retention curves and one of them compares all videos that are in the 15-minute range to yours so you can see if at the 15-minute mark, the whole 60% of viewers is way above average type thing, right? So you can see that and compare it to what other runtimes are doing. I can track where my viewers drop of. So I’m applying that stuff that I’m learning and that’s where I learn like 15 minutes is the sweet spot for what I’m doing. If I go much over 15, even the viewers that want to see that stuff just, you know, you’re busy, it’s had to commit to watching something that long. So I get it.
So yeah, I try to find things to break things up if I can, to make multiple part things. That’s kind of what I’m going to do with the next one I’m doing which is ridiculously awesome, aerobatic ride with the Extra 300. I’m trying to break it into two because it’s a really great story about the pilot and his history and how he got to where he is but also me experiencing the most insane flight I’ve ever been on. I’m trying to make it into a 2-parter. It’s working but it’s tough because I don’t want to just end it and have people like “What?” and be frustrated. In two weeks, part 2 or more. Sometimes, I like to sprinkle in the part 2 of a thing like later, like put in different types of content in between. Should it have to be linear? I think in this case, I probably have to do it because I’ve held this one back for a while and a lot of people online know that I did it because we shared a teaser early on and it was popular.
Chris: And even in your recent one, your end of year episode.
Steve: Yeah. I just kind of review that because people on Reddit have been asking a fair amount about it because that’s how I met this pilot so it’s kind of publicly set up that it was going to happen and he’s a really popular guy in Reddit because he’s like a young dude that flies an Extra 300 and a T6 so he’s kind of a hero and a lot of people know who he is on Reddit so he’s very popular. So a lot of people ask like “Why have you not shared this video that you shot six months ago?” And it’s like “Well, the reason why is because it’s a lot of editing and I’m trying to work on getting sponsored and so on.” I don’t want to phone that one in. I want that one to be great but it literally is, at this point, I can estimate safely that to do the two parts of that one, it’s going to be like 12 days of editing.
It’s like two weeks full time man to do that, and that’s not including the shoot. So yeah, it’s fun, crazy, exciting job that I’m trying to turn it into a job but it still isn’t. It’s still evenings and weekends and trying to get it done. It’s hard right because you get a traction so you establish a standard. You can’t go back from that.
Chris: Yeah, exactly.
Steve: So it’s hard. But it’s exciting. I’m not complaining.
Chris: It will happen. Just keep it up.
Steve: Yeah, I’ll try.
Chris: So what’s the future of FlightChops?
Steve: So having found Patreon which is this crowdsourcing ongoing thing, it’s like kickstarter but you’re not asking for money once. You’re sort of asking for supports to throw a dollar in your hat each time you upload something sort of thing. It’s this ongoing way they can just tip you. And it’s a very elegant system. And it was created by Jack Conte who’s like from the band Pomplamoose and it was a very popular internet band. He’s just this really great honest dude. He’s an artist first and he just went to one of his programming friends and said “I got this idea” and they coded it so quickly and made it really work so fast. But his philosophy comes from being an artist. They had a lot of popular videos and they started selling things through iTunes and Pomplamoose was really doing well in the early days of like YouTube ad revenue being viable which is no longer.
They were making the bills with their ad revenue and selling on iTunes. But it started becoming so unpredictable, and then the random sort of powers that be decide what clicks are worth decide at Christmas time clicks are worth more or whatever or if it’s a car commercial, it’s worth more. And then they design thing where you can click off after five seconds and then if the person doesn’t watch the five seconds then you don’t get paid. It’s basically impossible to monetize with YouTube unless you’re making kitten videos that get 5 million views.
Chris: But you have a hangar kitten video now.
Steve: That was so much fun to actually put a kitten in the video, oh my god.
Chris: That’s awesome.
Steve: I mean, my joke is that this is the one, it’s going to get a million hits. I have a kitten in it.
Chris: Totally relevant man.
Steve: Yeah. And I haven’t put kitten in the title for pure fun. Because I have a feeling I’ll get, and I don’t want those kind of viewers. I want my niche audience, right? I don’t want clickbait because I want my niche. I want the people that want to see the content. I don’t want to fool somebody or bring somebody in that doesn’t want to see something nerdy about airplanes.
But anyway, with that in mind, so the basic philosophy of Patreon was you get to connect directly with your supporters, it’s not required, they can quit at any time. They know that your product is always going to be free and they can choose to support you that way. And that is the perfect way for me to fill the gap between monetizing and sponsorship because I didn’t want to monetize. I very quickly decided it wasn’t worth it to do it with YouTube because I have no control over the commercials they’re going to put on my thing. Plus they’re going to put banners up that’s going to block my frame and I won’t know how long or where that is and what part of my frame is blocked. I like to put graphic stuff or whatever. I don’t want people having to click a little tiny x and be distracted. I just said “No, not going to do it” and for the first year, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have any kind of revenue.
But launching Patreon when I did, it essentially worked. There were enough people that I had engaged at the time that I launched the Patreon campaign that it instantly generated a kind of sustainable revenue stream that already exceeded whatever my monetization would have been because I had talked to people that were getting the same kind of numbers that I was getting so I knew that 500 dollars a month was kind of the best I could hope for with ad revenue and that’s like the high end with the numbers I’m getting. So Patreon quickly exceeded that and that gives me the gap to fill. Even with sponsors, I’m still going to need the support because of the type of budgets that I’m trying to raise especially to bring a crew out. Like I can blow 3 grand instantly on a little shoot with a crew and a couple days of editing like instantly. You know what I mean?
Chris: Yeah, exactly.
Steve: Like my average video, I kind of need my budgets to be in the 5000 dollars per video range in order to pay myself, my crew, editing and graphics. And it’s all spent. It’s not like I’m rolling in dough. I pay everybody reasonably and I pay myself for like…
Chris: Right. It’s all costs.
Steve: Yeah. It’s all back out the door. So currently, with the Patreon campaign, it’s somewhere in the 700 range right now per video which allows me to pay myself for about a third of the time I spend editing which is pretty awesome, so I still have to work evenings and weekends. But yeah, I can take some time off actual freelance work to do it during the office hours and that feels pretty cool, like it’s pretty awesome to be cutting a flying video and then remember like “Oh yeah, I can pretend I’m getting paid today so I don’t have to like be stressed out about trying to fit something else in. I can actually focus on it.” So the future of it is like trying to get sponsored, ongoing sponsorships where I don’t have to change what I’m doing.
So that’s the challenge right because whenever you talk to sponsors, a lot of them want you to change what you’re doing or focus on whatever their thing and it’s like yeah. Obviously it’s give and take but I’m trying to establish relationship with sponsors where they understand what I’m doing and they’re kind of just coming along for the ride, and the viewers can see a sponsor is just simply sponsoring a cool kind of ongoing documentary series that will cover lots of flying stuff that’s cool and fun but it doesn’t mean that I’m going to be drinking Pepsi while I’m flying, you know what I mean? So yeah. I think I can do it but its’ hard because I’ve had to say no to a lot of things. I had a lot of offers which are flattering but it’s like “Yeah, it ain’t going to work.”
Chris: Well that’s good man. I’m glad you’re waiting for a quality sponsor rather than just I guess selling out.
Steve: Yeah. I mean again, even when I get a quality sponsor, it can’t be just one because it needs to pieced together with a budget from multiple sources to get the kind of budget that I need, right? It’s cool. It’s stressful but it’s cool and like I said, I do have one that I’m probably going to be announcing in a week. The contract is like right here ready to be signed. We’re just kind of locking down the file, little nuts and bolts of it. I think it’s going to happen but until the ink is dry, it ain’t real, you know.
Chris: Right. Exactly. Alright. So let’s wrap up the show now. Before we go, I’d like to get or rather allow you the opportunity to give any advice, thoughts, ideas for other rusty aviators out there or other guys like you that are kind of weekend warriors, maybe even those that are just getting into flying for the first time or wanting to learn to fly. What kind of advice can you give someone like that?
Steve: Yeah. So I get asked that a lot. I think at the end of the day, it kind of goes back to what we sort of discussed about enjoying training. Don’t try to picture the endgame first. So many people say like “I don’t have the money for this. I don’t know if I can do it.” But what is the first question to ask yourself is do you want to do it and if the answer is yes then just go do it. And make it happen and whatever pace you have to do it at… And I mean there is an argument to be said that you shouldn’t start training unless you have 10 grand in your account so you can actually do the full license and that’s valid but for some people, that’s not possible. So you should probably just start flying and then armchair fly when you can’t fly and just enjoy the process and accept the fact that it’s a constant learning process. Don’t imagine yourself going through training and then throwing the books away and then just treating it like a car.
I guess if more people treated driving like flying, like a license to learn, there would be so few car accidents, and that’s how most pilots are at least. I think a lot of us get it that every time you hear of a seminar, you check your schedule to see if you can make it or whatever because there’s going to be something that you’re going to get out of it. Imagine if like driving seminars got announced and everyone is excited to go. So yeah, I mean just basically do it, enjoy it and don’t try to ask gazillion questions right now because you don’t even know the questions you want to ask yet. I think that’s the most frustrating part for me is I knew a person will say “How do I start? What do I do?” And has this giant email of questions.
I don’t want to be unsupportive, it’s just like just heart and believe me, the questions will get more clearer in your head and then you’ll start to understand what you need to do and what you want to ask. Because even if you answer all those questions to a new person, they’re just not going to retain or they’re not prepared to understand the answer you’re going to give them right? So it’s really just get out there, do it, and enjoy it and then ask the questions in small bites. Like it’s an elephant. Just eat it one bite at a time.
Chris: Yeah. You just got to start though. You got to go out and take the plunge.
Steve: Yeah. The worst thing you can do is say “I wish I had done it five years ago and I still am not starting.” It’s like well, it’s never too late to start. Like you’ll be five years from now saying “I wish I started 10 years ago.” Just do it even if you’re 40 or whatever or 50. I mean, just do it. If you know you want to do it and I think most of us have it in our blood. You don’t accidentally find yourself becoming a pilot. Everybody that is one wanted to be one and there are lots of people that want to be one that aren’t. So just go do it or you’re going to be one of those people that wanted to be a pilot that isn’t.
Chris: Exactly. Well, perfect time of year to grab it. New Year Resolution and all. Awesome man. Well, I’d encourage you and I know you’re going to, but keep up the awesome work. I really love what you’re doing. You have a refreshing look on aviation and I’m sure a lot of people feel that way and keep it up.
Steve: Alright, thanks man.
Chris: Yeah. We’ll talk soon. Thanks Steve.
Steve: Okay, no problem.
Alright. So a huge thank you goes out to Steve Thorne from FlightChops for joining us in this episode of AviatorCast. It’s really fantastic to get a behind the scenes view of what goes in to making an episode of FlightChops and kind of all the hard work that goes on with making these videos. At the end of the day, videos are very difficult to make. I know myself because we make a lot of video here at Angle of Attack and it is not an easy thing to do especially when you’re a small operation. So huge kudos to Steve for not the hard work he’s doing today to continue to keep his channel moving forward on YouTube, FlightChops that is, but also for taking the plunge and doing this to begin with and working so hard at it. I know that it’s a breath of fresh air within the aviation community to have content like he has and it’s so cool to see the humility that Steve has in his content as well. I think that’s something we don’t see a lot of. That production quality definitely shines through. I look forward to each and every episode that he comes out with or each and every video that he comes out with. I just really enjoy his stuff and hope that he continues to make those things.
Because of that, I actually became a patron today of Steve, and you can do that by going to FlightChops.com. This is a way to support Steve so he can continue to do these videos. I became a patron for 15 dollars. You can become a patron for as little as one dollar. Just donating a little bit of your money so that he can continue to do this great stuff. If you think about what you’re going to spend your money on, even if you’re talking about aviation, this is such as a small amount of money. It’s definitely worth it. So I encourage you to go and to do that if you want to see more stuff from Steve. If you haven’t seen anything from FlightChops yet, go ahead, YouTube.com/FlightChops. You should be able to find it there. Fantastic material. It will get you pumped out about aviation just as this podcast does for many of you. So I encourage you guys to go check out FlightChops and see exactly what they have.
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