Michael J. Prevost recently passed his private pilot checkride at Hanscom Field Airport in Bedford, Mass. – but his was no ordinary journey. It started with having gastric bypass surgery in December 2007.
“I’ve always wanted to learn to fly, and I’ve wanted this since I was a little kid. But growing up in the city, and without a lot of money in the family, I never even thought was was possible for me to be a pilot until I was almost 30,” said Prevost. “By then, my weight was an impediment. I had to explain to nonaviation people how small the aircraft are that is used to train, how they have severe weight limitations and are just plain narrow.”
At his peak, Prevost said he weighed 454 pounds. “At that weight, I would have had to find an instructor that tipped the scales at less than 75 pounds to teach me to fly in a [Cessna] 172,” he said. “The reality was that there would be no flying in small planes for morbidly obese Mike. No possible way.”
Prevost said the desire to become a pilot was a major reason he decided to have gastric bypass surgery, along with transforming his life and health. “Five years later, my weight is now stable in the 260-pound range, and I can fly with another big guy in a 172 or similar plane, and there is room for us both,” he said.
Prevost’s first lesson was in October 2009, a few months after his weight stabilized. “I made the classic flight training mistake of allowing life to get in the way—twice! I stopped my training twice for more than a year each time,” he said. “Even though finances were a key cause, I regret that I didn't prioritize my training higher. Had I done so, I would have spent less training money overall and had use of my private pilot privileges to support my sales work in pulling my company out of the recession sooner.”
He finished with 140 hours of total time that spanned three and a half years. One of his flight training highlights was a trip from Hanscom Field in Bedford to Monmouth Executive Airport flying down the Hudson River VFR corridor from the Tappan Zee Bridge past Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. “Every pilot should see one of the world's greatest cities this way,” he said.
A member since 2003, Prevost also credits AOPA for helping him through the training process. “The stories and training information and feeling of community at AOPA was a lifeline that kept me attached to my dreams of one day flying and owning my own aircraft,” he said.
Prevost took several Air Safety Institute seminars online and attended two safety seminars conducted by AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg in his area. “I used the FlightPath material to guide me through several points in my training and the `Say It Right: Mastering Radio Communication’ online course was a godsend for me at the very busy Class D airport where I trained and Class C airports that were part of my cross-country solos,” he said. “Articles in Flight Training were also very helpful throughout.”
Prevost said his advice to others trying to work on their license is nothing new. “First, once you beginning training, make it the highest priority in your life that you can,” he said. “You will spend less money and feel more successful by working toward the FAA checkride without losing time.
“If you find yourself stuck in training, be honest with yourself about 'why.' If you don't have a good rapport with your instructor, don't be shy about finding another,” said Prevost. “If you have fear and anxiety about aspects of flying, talk to your instructor about them and develop a plan to overcome those concerns. It can be done.”