Area Pilots Share Their Love for Flying

In Full Flight

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the Earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Although da Vinci wasn’t talking about a trip in a modern-day aircraft, anyone who has experienced the miracle of flight will tell you that his words hold much truth. For those who spend their time soaring in the sky, aviation isn’t just a way to get from one place to another. It’s a way to connect with loved ones, find inner peace, and experience nature’s splendor. Meet the local men who have a passion for piloting.

By Christina Davenport | Photography by Sarah Unger

Chadrick Garrison 

with wife Christie

……….

As a child, Chad Garrison was always fascinated by the planes he would see come and go from the airport near his grandmother’s house in Lakeland, Florida. He frequently read books on flying as a young boy, and he made a promise to himself that one day he would take off from that very airport.

Fast forward to 2007, and Garrison had just finished not only pharmacy school, but flight school as well. After owning two Piper Arrows, Garrison decided to purchase a 1978 Piper T-tail Lance. Garrison made the switch to his current plane, aptly named Lance, for more space and completely renovated the interior in 2020.

“I purchased this model because it had more space for my family of five,” explains Garrison. “There’s plenty of room up front and four seats in the back, as well as luggage space behind the engine and in the rear of the fuselage. It also has decent speed, and we can make it to Orlando in a little over two and a half hours.”

Being able to spend time with his family, both in the air and at new destinations, is a major perk of aviation for Garrison. The crew has visited everywhere from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the Florida Keys and Destin, which is a family favorite. 

Looking back on all the times that Garrison has taken to the skies with his family, there is one trip in particular that sticks out in his mind … for better or worse.

“I have so many enjoyable and memorable flights with my wife and children, but the most memorable was our very first trip to visit family in the spring of 2009,” explains Garrison. “We were flying over the Okefenokee Swamp just north of Florida when the engine quit. I made an emergency landing in someone’s backyard, and by the grace of God, our entire family walked away without a scratch on us. I later found out that the engine was improperly built!”

During training, Garrison was taught to fly the plane first and then worry about navigation and communication second – a skill set that likely saved several lives that day. And although the incident had the Garrisons shaken for a while, it didn’t impact their love of aviation and the freedom it provides. 

“Flying a personal aircraft can really maximize vacation time and increase productivity,” says Garrison. “There’s just something about being in the air with the clouds or getting to see the stars in the night sky that put it all in perspective. When you are flying, there are no problems, just beauty.”

So what does the future have in store for Garrison and his passion for piloting? He one day hopes to become a flight instructor and commercial pilot and inspire others to live their dream.

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Vaughn “Pago” Phipps

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Anyone looking for proof that you’re never too old to turn your dreams into reality need look no further than Vaughn Phipps. As a child, Phipps would play with train toys but quickly graduated to planes. When he got older, he began making all different types of model and remote control airplanes.

“Airplanes just kind of amazed me. I always thought, ‘How does it stay in the sky? I can’t do it. How can it do it?’” says Phipps. “I got really interested in the science of it and learned how to build models – both the right way and the wrong way.”

Decades passed and Phipps tried taking flying lessons a few times, but with a wife and kids, life always seemed to get in the way. Before he knew it, the kids were gone and there was plenty of money in the bank, so Phipps took the leap at the age of 50 and got his pilot’s license.

Now 78 years old, Phipps regularly flies his Beechcraft Bonanza V-Tail throughout the region and continues to set new goals for himself as a pilot.

“I’m a member of the Black Pilots Association, and one year at one of the functions, this guy was bragging about having flown to all 50 states. I’m sitting there listening and decide to go get my logbook because I was sure I wasn’t that far off.”

After making a few trips to states like Maine and South Dakota, Phipps too had landed a plane in every state.

“I even later beat his record when I found out that he flew commercial to both Alaska and Hawaii and rented a plane,” explains Phipps. “I did that in Hawaii, but I flew my own aircraft all the way to Alaska, spent the night, and turned around.”

You might be wondering what comes next for someone who has seemingly seen it all.

“I would like to see all of the national parks,” answered Phipps. “I’m up to 18, so I have a good start. I would just rather spend my money seeing the United States than go to other countries.” 

Looking back on some of his most memorable flights, Phipps recalls the time he got to fly across Mount Rushmore. Flying across the Grand Canyon was another unforgettable experience for Phipps, and is something you can no longer do unless you are at least 18,000 feet up. 

“Flying is incredibly convenient. You can always be on the go – just ripping and running,” says Phipps. “There’s also always something new to learn or a skill to improve. Flying is more than just a hobby. It really is a different way to live life.”

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Andrew Godbold

with sons Teddy and Beau

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Some kids run a lemonade stand or walk dogs for a little extra cash. When Andrew Godbold was growing up, he washed airplanes. Years before he could drive, Godbold was surrounded by the aviation community and would wash planes for extra money, or more often a ride.

On his 14th birthday, he was gifted a ride in a World War II trainer called a T-6 Texan, and for the first time, got to experience aerobatic flying. If he wasn’t hooked already, the loops and rolls in that historic plane sure did the trick. At 16, the same age he joined the Moccasin Flying Club, he made his first solo at Chattanooga’s Lovell Field. He earned his license the following year after his high school English professor allowed him to reschedule an exam so he could take his checkride on December 17th – the 99th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight.

Several years later while studying business in college, Godbold enrolled in an aeronautical engineering course alongside one of his friends.

“A big part of why we took the class was just to get to know the professor, who is one of the best aerobatic pilots I’ve ever met,” explains Godbold. “It sure did pay off because he, along with some other people, loaned me airplanes I could only dream of owning. Because of their generosity, I was able to fly in aerobatic competitions in seven states as well as with members of the U.S. Aerobatic Team.”

The next several years blessed Godbold with some of the most incredible aviation experiences of his life. He soloed his favorite airplane (an open-cockpit Stearman biplane), flew a seaplane to the edges of the Arctic Circle, and even had the opportunity to fly small planes around the castles and sunflower fields of Tuscany while studying abroad in Italy. 

While having those experiences is still incredibly important to Godbold, in this season of his life, aviation is all about giving back to others. “Flying is all about relationships. Aviators are a passionate group, and it’s hard to find a stranger at an airport if you share that passion,” says Godbold. “I truly hate to fly a plane with an empty seat. If it’s empty, it’s only because I don’t give people enough lead time to join.”

But if friends and family are not available for a quick trip, you better believe that Godbold isn’t alone. Now, a major goal for Godbold is to provide his two young sons with similar experiences and help broaden their horizons.

“Having access to an airplane also comes with a lot of responsibility. My boys have spent countless evenings scrubbing bugs and oil residue off the airplane. It’s truly a family affair,” says Godbold. “It’s fun to watch the boys since that’s how I got my start in aviation. I’m really pleased with how they take pride and earnestly want to be of assistance. Plus they think it’s fun to slide around on a ‘creeper,’ and they can reach the spots that are hard for the rest of us!”

Godbold’s family and friends aren’t the only people who benefit from his love of aviation, however. Godbold is also a pilot with Challenge Air and has flown dozens of children with special needs as  “co-pilots,” and with Angel Flights he has flown cancer patients, transplant patients, and others (one with a broken neck) to medical centers across the Southeast.

“Fortunately, there is a large network of pilots who donate their time and aircraft to help others. Aside from seeing family, these are the most rewarding flights I have taken part in.”  

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James Glenn

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In 2016, the Chicago Cubs were slated for a matchup against the Cleveland Indians for game 7 of the World Series, and James Glenn would have done anything to be at that game.

A lawyer by trade, Glenn was set to appear in federal court the next morning, so he stayed home and caught the televised version. But when his obligation to appear in court got canceled, he decided that he would never again be beholden to others for his transportation.

“Spontaneity is a hallmark of mine, and I wanted the ability to get up and go whenever I wanted,” says Glenn. And what better way to have the ultimate freedom while traveling than to fly your own plane. 

Glenn immediately took action and has since become a licensed pilot as well as a flight instructor.

“Introducing people to aviation is a passion of mine, so I enjoy everything from helping young and old pilots sharpen skills to flying friends to dinner to helping people navigate the legal aspects of a plane purchase or FAA regulations,” says Glenn. “Some of my favorite memories are flying friends across states for a dinner or a concert for the night and then back, and the aviation community is incredibly fun and welcoming.”

While Glenn doesn’t currently own his own aircraft, he’s spent the last several years renting and flying various models – chiefly through organizations such as Crystal Air and Illinois Aviation Academy – so when the time comes to purchase his own plane, he’ll know exactly what he wants.

“My favorite plane to fly is an A36 Bonanza. I spend most of my time, however, in a single-engine Cessna,” explains Glenn. “My favorite multi-engine plane to fly is a DA42, which is also the plane that I flew for my multi-engine instructor certificate, and I flew a 1972 Piper Warrior II for my private pilot, instrument, and commercial licenses.”

Looking back on his most memorable flights, Glenn notes the first time he communicated with New York Center as a student in a small training plane as he was landing at the Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.

“It was a very busy airport that was filled with nothing but private jets,” Glenn recalls. “My instructor and I looked like the Beverly Hillbillies as we taxied to the field-based operation filled with private jets and pilots in uniform.”

But that experience did nothing but fuel his passion for aviation and serve as an example of the breadth of possibilities when it comes to flying. 

“Flying is the ultimate release and ultimate freedom,” says Glenn. “There is nothing like soaring through the clouds on a beautiful day knowing that the world is going on underneath you, but in a way, it has stopped for you while you are in the cockpit.”

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Jonathan Cutrell 

with his father Jeff

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For Jonathan Cutrell, flying has always been a part of his life. 

“Growing up, my dad was a pilot, and I’ve been flying with him before I could even walk,” says Cutrell. “It felt completely normal to be a passenger, but it wasn’t until later that it hit me that I too could get my license. One day I just thought that it would be a great opportunity for us to spend more time together and that I could absolutely go and do it.”

Now, the duo co-owns a 1962 Cessna 182E, and it’s the only plane that both Jonathan and Jeff have ever flown.

“It’s pretty neat because this particular model was the first with a full 360-degree window view and a larger cabin and to this day is one of the most popular, versatile, and affordable aircraft in its class,” explains Cutrell. “This plane also has such a rich history with our family, and we’ve made many memories in it and spent many hours flying over the continental United States.”

It isn’t just the time spent in the air, however, that serves as a chief source of bonding. Jonathan and Jeff have also spent their fair share of time overhauling everything from the avionics and interior to the engine and exterior. 

“At its core, the airplane is the same. It flies like a great 182 should. This airplane is such a timeless piece, and we’ve loved every minute of working on it,” says Cutrell. “Flying and everything that comes with it has definitely given my dad and me something to connect on. By learning to fly, it feels like I have opened a door to a shared history that previously was hidden.”

For other people interested in learning to fly, Cutrell encourages them to explore the opportunities.

“There are so many ways to fly, whether you want to take longer trips or just bounce around locally. It’s more accessible than you may imagine,” he says. “I love the process of developing expertise, while also having the freedom to see absolutely stunning views and travel in ways that otherwise are inaccessible.”

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