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 Fazal Khan, of Sterling Heights, reviews information with his students for a test on flight instruments.

Fazal Khan, of Sterling Heights, reviews information with his students for a test on flight instruments.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Sterling man mentors youth in aviation

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 3, 2019

 Khan stands in front of a trainer Cherokee 140.

Khan stands in front of a trainer Cherokee 140.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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STERLING HEIGHTS — While teaching in a media room equipped with a Microsoft Flight Simulator program, Fazal Mohammad Khan is searching for young people whose eyes are on the skies.

“First we teach them to fly a basic airport pattern and then have them fly (simulations) on small trips, like from Detroit to Pontiac,” he said. “The kids, they think it’s fun and games, so they really enjoy it.”

All of this, Khan said, eventually inspires some kids to enroll in aviation ground school, and high achievers eventually get actual flight training.

Khan, 74, from Sterling Heights, is a pilot with about 40 years of private piloting experience. As a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, he has also spent his retirement teaching young people about aviation through the EAA’s Young Eagles program.

According to the EAA, Khan has influenced the lives of more than 300 kids in the program. The training — which takes place at the Coleman A. Young International Airport in Detroit — includes lectures, software simulations and a first flight in an actual airplane, where students may partially co-pilot.

Khan said he has been involved with Young Eagles for approximately 15 years. When he retired from his career as a General Dynamics engineer six years ago, he started to devote even more time toward teaching aviation.

“I just enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, especially when we see a success story like Nicolina (Buccilli). In less than one year, she went from her first flight as a Young Eagle to her first solo in a motorglider.”

Khan said he primarily teaches aviation to young people in Detroit — and not just through the Young Eagles program. He also teaches at Carver STEM Academy in Detroit, and he is affiliated with an aviation ground training program through the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum in Detroit.

Brian Smith, the president of the Tuskegee museum, said the museum has offered a program for the past 20 years, teaching young people to fly airplanes “with the intent of getting them to become commercial airline pilots.”

“We’ve had seven or eight young people flying around with United Airlines, Delta Airlines, the National Guard, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, FedEx — those are some of the graduates from our program,” Smith said. “And Fazal is one of our newest ground school instructors. ... Not only does he do maintenance on aircraft, he assists with the maintenance and he teaches the ground school.”

Khan said he hopes to reach as many young people as possible and to show them that there is life beyond high school, including careers in the science and technology fields.

“Maybe it can guide them to become the next generation of pilots,” he said. “There’s a huge shortage coming up. We have already hit that shortage. There is going to be a real demand for pilots over the next 10 years. The pay has gone up.”

He said that, while not every student will remain interested or be able to handle flying, persistence tends to pay off.

“I think, to put it in a phrase, we’re trying to find those diamonds in the rough,” he said. “When we started the class, there’s 20 kids that start out, and we usually end up with about half of them ...  finding that one or two or three or four in class that are really excited about flying.”

Find out more about the EAA Young Eagles by visiting www.youngeagles.org.

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