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San Clemente Journal

Rod Machado - Sky Master

Dec 29, 2022 12:17PM ● By Donia Moore
by Donia Moore

Did you ever dream of flying a plane?

There are those of us who dream, and those of us who do. At age 10, I discovered the feeling of pure freedom and control that comes with learning to handle this mysterious machine when a friend took me up in her Cessna for the very first time. I didn’t understand how it could fly but my friend told me to just enjoy the experience, and I followed her advice.

 It was much later in my life that I finally was lucky enough to be both dreamer and doer with the encouragement and influence of San Clemente resident Rod Machado’s pilot program. When I told my grandmother that I was taking flying lessons, she gave me the kind of sage advice that only a grandmother could. “Fly low and stay close to the ground,” she told me seriously. I continued with the flight lessons but avoided following her well-meant advice.

Enter Rod Machado 
Rod is an amazing dynamo who very simply loves flying and introducing the more hesitant earthbound types to a whole new world. He is the author of The Pilots’ Handbook which many pilots - flying or not - consider the bible of flying. The book has been updated and revised and the new edition will be out later this year. I have reserved the perfect spot for it in my home library. 

Rod Machado preparing to teach a student to fly at Long Beach airport, circa 1990.


Born in 1953, Rod grew up in San Jose, California. He began flying at the age of 16 when he sold his motorcycle to take flying lessons. He solo-ed at the age of 17 and was soon on his way to instructing others. In 1973, he relocated to Seal Beach in Southern California to continue his training. After an intensive nine-month search for a home conducted mostly by his wife in the then-quiet San Clemente, the Machados were finally able to settle into a community that they still love today. And even after so many years they still regard the Denny’s Restaurant sign with its rotating outage of neon lights affectionately, as much a sign of home as the Spanish named streets and red tile roofs of this seaside town. 

Rod’s wings of choice are fastened to his Cessna 150 for leisurely hops to visit family and friends. As one of the foremost aviation educators and motivational speakers in the world, Rod has developed an extensive pilots’ library of material designed to get people in the air as quickly and safely as possible and he has introduced a radical new idea to keep them flying. This is important as there is a growing crunch of pilots due to high demand and lack of training for upcoming commercial co-pilots. 

Rod’s Experience   
•  hundreds of hours to fly from the right seat as a Certified Flight Instructor
•  thousands of hours as a classroom instructor
•  350,000+ through his over 400 aviation articles
•  100,000+ through his training materials
•  Several million with his flight lessons on MS Flight Simulator
•  degrees in Psychology and Aviation 
•  an Airline Transport Pilot rated with 
all fixed wing-flight powered instructor ratings
•  instructing student pilots full time since 1973
•  grounds school instructor, often to classrooms of 200 since 1975
•  lecturer at hundreds of aviation safety seminars - US, Canada & Europe
•  instructor of Flight Instructor Revalidation Clinics-US, Canada & Europe
•  10,000 hours flying earned the hard 
way - one flight instructor hour at a time
•  co-wrote and co-anchored ABC’s Wide World of Flying for five years
•  Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's National Flight Instructor Spokesman for 15 years (AOPA is the largest aviation association)
•  designed the lessons and was the CFI voice for MS Flight Simulator for Microsoft
•  columnist for AOPA Pilot magazine for 18 years
•  columnist for Flight Training magazine for 25 years
•  personally writes and illustrates all of his own training materials
•  uses humor like no other to help you 
remember the lessons
•  has Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido black belts and 20 years experience in Gracie

Rod looks to history to explore past and future attitudes. One of his favorite stories is that of an encounter between Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark expedition) and the Hidatsas Native Americans for the first time. He attempted to explain the idea of peace between nations to an assembly of young warriors. While discussing the tragic cost of war, one young Hidatsas man asked Lewis the following question: “If we don’t have war, how will we know how to pick our chiefs? In the warriors’ world, chiefs were chosen based on their battlefield experience.

He uses this discussion to show how things haven’t changed very much since then, as commercial aviation selects its pilots in a similar way. The more experience that pilots have the more likely they are to be hired (all else being equal, of course). But an overhaul of current thinking may be occurring that will help to ease the current pilot crunch by bringing better trained co-pilots into the mix. Experience may not be the only means by which we should select applicants for copilot duty on a commercial airliner. While the FAA and Congress have required between 1200 to 1500 hours of logged flight time since 1933, many European and Asian airlines have successfully integrated pilots with as little as 250 hours of flight time into copilot positions. Furthermore, many European countries have copilots licensed under the MPL, or multi-crew pilot license program. This program provides upwards of 240 hours of training, primarily in advanced flight simulators, and requires as little as 35 hours of actual flight time in a small airplane, or multi-crew pilot license program. Of course, the MPL program is competency-based and heavily emphasizes the human performance aspect of aviation training (i.e., judgment training over flight experience).

Although Rod is neither anti-FAA nor anti-Congress, he says he is definitely anti-bad ideas. He feels that many of the current pilot requirements are politically motivated. He hopes to emphasize how important good training as well as experience is to the safety of the American flying public. 
I bet my grandmother’s advice falls into the last category.