This month's Aviator Spotlight shines its light on Taz Christman; a 20 year Air Force Veteran Pilot and the 2018 FAA CFI of the year! Taz is a proficient Aerobatics pilot, a helicopter pilot, and just so much more that you will have to see for yourself. Taz has a unique aviation story riddled with challenges and obstacles he overcame. As such, Taz is a shining example as someone who gives back to the aviation community and why we wanted to share his story.
Read along with Taz's one-of-a-kind story as he tells it in his own words...
Taz Christman's story in his own words:
As a young kid growing up in northern Indiana, I always knew I wanted to be a pilot. My father was in the Air Force Reserves and would regularly take me to the base to see the planes. I had every model plane and could vis rece any plane that flew overhead by the time I was 9 or 10. When I was 11 my parents bribed me, saying that if I made the honor roll, they would pay for flying lessons. It worked, and I have been hooked ever since.
A family friend was the president of the Mentone Flying Club which was based in our hometown of Rochester Indiana. He would routinely pick me up at precisely 5:32am every Saturday to take me out to breakfast with the club members and then over to the hangar to work on the planes and do some flying. Most of the members out aged me by about 30 years.They didn’t mind having me around, and I learned so much from them. I started taking flying lessons soon after I turned 11. I would get about 1 lesson every month until a few months before my 16th birthday. By the time my birthday arrived I was ready. It was a cold February morning, and the winds were forecasted to pick up by 9 am. So we planned to arrive at 6 am and try to be done before the winds arrived. Everything went off without a hitch. I actually soloed at 6:54 am, which was almost a full hour before I was born. So technically I wasn’t quit 16 yet. After another year of training, I received my Private Pilot Certificate at age 17.
Following High school, I attended Vincennes University where I majored in Professional Flight Technology. While there I earned my Commercial Instrument SEL and MEL as well as my Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) and my Instrument Instructor (CFII). Post CFI training, I was asked to teach the aerobatic course the following two semesters in the schools Super Decathlon. I transferred to Purdue University for my Junior and Senior years. While at Purdue I earned my Multi-engine Instructor (MEI), Commercial Glider, Commercial Single Engine Sea, as well as my Flight Engineer Turbojet Certificate. I also gained experience flying the King Air 200 and the Beechcraft 400.
" We were told all aircraft were being directed to land immediately. "
During my weekends at college, I would drive the 5 hours back home to instruct at my hometown flying club. After graduating from Purdue, I became the Chief Flight Instructor at the Mentone Flying Club and a part time co-pilot on a Sabreliner 40. During this time, I had been offered a first officer position with Chautauqua Airlines (now Republic Airways) and was actively pursuing a position with the Indiana Air National Guard. On September 11th, 2001, we were overhead Indianapolis, returning to our home airport from Sarasota FL in the Sabreliner when we were told to land immediately at KIND. We were told all aircraft were being directed to land immediately. We were within about 10 min of our home airport, and they allowed us to continue to our destination.
On that day, my life changed forever. My airline job was turned off, and the guard unit stopped taking applications. I changed gears and decided to join the Air Force as full-time active duty. I left for OTS in March of 2002. I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in May 2002 and then reported to Vance AFB, OK for Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) where I was a member of class 03-12. UPT is approximately a yearlong intensive training program. I flew about 120 hours in the T-37B Tweet before track selecting to the T-38A Talon. I was originally assigned to initially fly the B-1B Lancer post UPT.
" My future with the Air Force was uncertain... "
Unfortunately, in September of 2002, I was diagnosed with Cancer. My future with the Air Force was uncertain as I went through treatment. After almost a year of treatments and observation, I was given a waiver to begin flying again. As part of the waiver, I was given a duty limitation for 5 years, where I could not fly internationally. Because of this duty limitation, I was reassigned to the 25 FTS, where I would fly the T-38C as a First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP). I amassed almost 1500 hours flying the T-38C. During my off time at Vance, I also provided Civilian Flight Instruction through a couple of the local flight schools, as well as received my Airline Transport Pilot Certificate.
After 6 years at Vance, I finally moved on to Dyess AFB, TX where I trained in the B-1B for close to a year. I then was assigned to the 37th BS at Ellsworth AFB, TX. Again, during my off time, I continued my civilian flight training, by joining a local glider club. I was able to finish my Flight Instructor Glider certificate just prior to deploying to Afghanistan.
I flew over 50 Combat missions and almost 750 hours in the B-1. Upon return from the deployment, I was reassigned to Holloman AFB, NM to train on the MQ-9 Reaper, and then on to the 17th ATKS at Creech AFB, NV. I spent 3 years, and 2500 hours flying the MQ-9.
" ...this time won the National Level and became only the 54th recipient of the FAA’s National Flight Instructor of the Year award. "
Just like all my other bases, I provided civilian instruction during my off time. Not only did I provide instruction but, I also increased my own knowledge, buy earning my Commercial Instrument and Flight Instructor Helicopter Certificates and my Small UAS (sUAS) Certificate. I also became one of the FAASteam aviation safety counselors. I quickly became one of the most requested speakers at the monthly safety meetings. This prompted the local FAA FSDO, to request that I submit a package for the General Aviation Awards program as CFI of the year. I submitted my first package in 2017, where I won both the Las Vegas, and Western Pacific divisions, but lost at the national level. I submitted again in 2018, this time won the National Level and became only the 54 the recipient of the FAA’s National Flight Instructor of the Year award.
In 2015, I was delt another blow, as I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This ended my flying career with the Air Force, but not on the Civilian side. My T1D, moved me into non-flying jobs with the Air Force. I helped stand up the Persistent Attack and Reconnaissance Operations Center (PAROC) as the first Deputy Commander. The PAROC over sees all Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) operations. I did that job for about 2 years, before I was transferred to Nellis AFB, NV. At Nellis my current job is as the Inspector General of the 57 Wing, where I oversee the readiness capabilities of 43 different units including all of the Weapon School squadrons, as well as the USAF Aerial Demonstration Team (Thunderbirds). I will hold this position until I officially retire in March of 2022.
" I have been an active flight instructor either full or part-time for over 25 years with more than 8,000 hours of dual instruction given in a diverse array of aircraft. "
Teaching flying is clearly my passion. In addition to my full-time duties with the Air Force, I average 25-30 hours of flight instruction a month and another 10-15 hours of ground training
per week. I have been an active flight instructor either full or part-time for over 25 years with more than 8,000 hours of dual instruction given in a diverse array of aircraft. As a part-time instructor, I currently have six full-time and four part-time flight students plus five ground school students. Unfortunately, I currently have a two-month waiting list for any new prospective students. As the director of operations of Las Vegas’s largest flight school, I am responsible for managing 8 instructors and 55 students. I currently run one of the only aerobatic/upset recovery training programs in the region utilizing Decathlon and Yak-52 aircraft. I am an experienced Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) instructor specializing in Avidyne, Garmin, Aspen and Honeywell glass cockpits. I have also created and recorded over 55 hours of video content for Helicopter Online Ground School (HOGS) Instrument Rating course.
A favorite saying of mine is “An empty seat is a missed opportunity”. What that means is any time after you’re a certificated pilot that you fly solo, it’s a missed opportunity to share aviation with someone. I am a huge proponent of the Young Eagles program and will routinely share my love for aviation with younger kids, trying to pass on the experiences of his own youth. As an aviation ambassador to young, enlisted Air Force airmen, I designed an incentive ride program to help motivate them to become officers and pilots. I have personally flown 25 enlisted airmen free of charge in my Yak-52, three of whom decided to start flight training.
" I suppose if you pressed me to pick only one aircraft to fly, it would be a Decathlon. "
I just absolutely love flying. If it will get me off the ground, I will probably fly it. My ideal airframe changes with what I want to do. If I want to fly low and slow and land out in the middle of nowhere, a helicopter is the way to go. If I want to travel long distances and get there fast, an airplane is the best way. All aircraft are designed for specific reasons. Depending on what I’m feeling at the time, usually determines what I want to fly. It’s hard to pick just one. I suppose if you pressed me to pick only one aircraft to fly, it would be a Decathlon. It allows me do aerobatics, while still being able to fly cross country. I could also do some off airport type flying as well.
My Yak has had an interesting journey. It originally rolled out of the factory in Romania in 1988. It then went into service with the Ukrainian Ministry of Transport as a primary trainer. It trained hundreds of pilots until it was returned to the factory in 1999 for overhaul. It was then purchased by a U.S. company Ohio in 2001. They registered the aircraft in the U.S. and flew the aircraft until 2007 when they sold it to a gentleman in Phoenix AZ. It was only in Arizona for about a year. It was then sold to another gentleman from Santa Monica CA. Unfortunately, that owner passed away in a separate aircraft accident. The plane sat on the ramp for several years until it was finally purchased by an aircraft museum in 2013. They performed maintenance on the plane to get it airworthy again. The plane was then purchased in 2015 and moved to Southern California. It was then used as an airshow performer, flying multiple airshows throughout the Southwest.
" When we are in the air, it is pure magic. She is a huge part of my life. I could not think of a better plane for me. "
I first flew in N52EX in 2016. A good friend of mine was looking for an aerobatic aircraft. We flew out to Murrieta, CA to do a test flight. I instantly fell in love with the plane. It had the military feel I was used to from my Air Force aircraft, but unique and different than anything else I had flown. My buddy bought the plane on the spot. I have been flying the plane ever since. I loved flying the plane so much, that I started looking for my own Yak. My friend who owned the plane decided it was too much for his skillset, so he offered to sell it to me. I jumped at the chance. I purchased it from him in 2019. I have never regretted it one bit. I have flown it all over the United States. I have introduced several people to aerobatics, formation, and warbird flying. I have had the privilege to perform several memorial/military honor flights. She is definitely one of the best planes I have ever flown. She fits me to a T. She has her quirks. She is temperamental, fussy, and needs a lot of attention at times. But when we are in the air, it is pure magic. She is a huge part of my life. I could not think of a better plane for me.
- Dan "Taz" Christman
Thank you, Taz, for sharing your story. If you have a story you would like to share with the world send it to us at AviatorSpotlight@scannersifr.com. We look forward to hearing from you and sharing your story!
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