From flight instructor to first officer to flight school owner by age 25: Jack Parrish’s story

Avatar for Jack ParrishBy Jack Parrish | May 27, 2022

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 8 seconds.

“Rewind… rewind… rewind… OK, stop! Play.”

The year is 2000. My grandpa’s face is visible in the rear-view mirror of the Boeing Stearman as we rocket through the sky. Our headsets muffle the air swirling past the exposed cockpit. The moment feels like a dream playing in slow motion.

When you’re a fourth-generation pilot, falling in love with flight is inevitable.

It started as a passion at the age of four, but it wasn’t until I had a rich personal history with flying that I truly fell in love. But as with anything, passion for flight is more meaningful when you have loved ones to share it with.

“Fast forward…”

A young Jack Parrish with his father (right) and grandfather (left).

The year is 2011. Arizona’s horizon sprawls from our perch 1,000 feet above the ground; we are suspended above the airport like a painting. This time, our wings are smaller, but it feels more peaceful inside the enclosed cockpit of the Aeronca Champion. I will never forget the joy of flying left downwind with Papa.

Piloting an aircraft is a wild, hectic exercise. The propellor rotates 2,500 times per minute while the plane screams through the air; the wind blows from random directions; terrain reaches out to grab you; traffic plays hide and seek; and chatter spills over the radio. But there are moments when the craziness calms down and becomes a memory. The earthly becomes ethereal.

“Fast forward…”

The year is 2017. My day is like a buffet. I teach spins in a Cessna 152; afterwards, it’s a multi-engine Seminole, followed by primary training in an Archer. Then, finally, back to the yellow tailwheel with my dad or grandpa to end the day.

Parrish (left) and his grandfather stand in front of a Boeing Stearman biplane.

There were many days of instructing that left me feeling burnt out. Six to eight hours of flying in small airplanes is a lot in one day. Nonetheless, the beautiful memories with my students made it worthwhile. One of my favorite things to see as an instructor was the moment that a student would begin to believe in themself.

Confidence is one of the biggest obstacles for student pilots; you must trust yourself to handle any situation that is thrown your way. If the engine fails, you have to deal with it. If you lose communications, you are the pilot in command.

If the weather turns bad, you better have the confidence to make a decision and execute it.

It just goes to show that flight instructing is more than teaching flight. It is imparting one’s attitude, confidence, and mindset to the next generation of pilots.

“Fast forward…”

The year is 2019. I fasten my tie, completing the first officer’s uniform for the first time. When I look in the mirror, I see more than a 23-year-old looking back at me. I see my father, and my grandfather, too. Nerves and excitement mingle in my stomach because today is the first day that I fly a passenger jet.

Parrish became a first officer for a U.S. regional airline in 2019.

Believe it or not, your first time flying a jet is with passengers on board. You have learned to fly the jet in a full-motion simulator, but even the most expensive simulator can only do so much. So, your first few weeks of flying are with a captain who helps you safely adjust to the real thing.

You are shut into the cockpit with another pilot for hours at a time, so you watch the sunrise and talk about your lives and families. You can’t sleep, you can’t watch TV, so you talk. Flying is fun, but it’s the shared experiences that make it a gold mine.

Flying connects you with people, and that’s why I fell in love with it. When I recall my years of flight, it’s the moments of connection with another human being in a common pursuit that come to mind.

“Fast forward…”

The year is 2022. An aircraft kisses the earth and returns to the sky as I look out the window of a flight school lobby. My heart swells with pride as I contemplate the student who is flying solo for the first time.

It turns out, I’m the owner of that flight school.

Today, Parrish is an airline pilot and co-owner and CEO of Parrish Aviation Flight Academy.

I remember the day that student walked into the school with more questions than Jeopardy.

I look at my grandpa’s picture that is hanging in the lobby. He has passed away, but his picture inspires every student who walks through the door.

Flight by itself is a thrill, but flight shared with people you love is a treasure. I encourage you to not only fill your life with thrills, but also with treasures.

“Stop the tape.”

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