Entrepreneurial Alums:
The Community in the Calling

by Hank ('09) and Kelsey ('10) Gibson

While studying at LETU, students apply what they have learned through real-world scenarios, collaborate in cross-discipline interactions, and nurture their faith in the distinctly Christ-centered culture. Our alums are taking this same formula into their workplaces. Through their industry skills, college connections, and deeply rooted faith, they are leaders in their generation. The following is a story from one of many such alums, Hank Gibson.

If you told me during my last year of flight instructing at LeTourneau University in 2011 that I would be instructing 11 years later, I’m not sure I would have believed you. Back then, when I was wrapping up my final studies at Letourneau and preparing to move to Houston with my new bride, I couldn’t wait to fly something faster than a Cessna Skyhawk and to go deeper into the wide world of aviation.

Yet here we are.

alum-hank-1.jpgEight years ago, with a new baby on the way, my wife and I dreamed up a venture that we called Texas Top Aviation. Taking experience from my previous job in Houston, we moved to her hometown in the Texas Hill Country and began offering training in technically advanced aircraft.

The business grew slowly at first, but, within a year, I was receiving referrals from my customers and growing my sphere of influence. My time at Letourneau prepared me with the aviation skills and knowledge to be a resource in the aviation community. My faith in the Lord helped me to have integrity and to take a leap of faith in starting a new business. All along the way, Letourneau Alumni have been some of our best allies in building our business.

Texas Top Aviation now caters to owner pilots and is a one-stop shop for most of their needs- from sales and acquisitions, management, and pilot services, to our bread and butter: training owners and pilots of technically advanced aircraft to become safer and more proficient in their aircraft.

After thousands of hours in Cirrus Aircraft, Columbia/Cessna 350s and 400s, Piper PA-46’s and TBM’s, I began to see a gap in the aviation industry. I would spend 2-3 days providing initial training in a customer’s new airplane, only to spend several hours of our time teaching the pilot how to use the glass panel in the airplane. It is very difficult for a pilot who is used to steam gauges to transition to a modern glass panel cockpit. There weren’t any good resources I could send pilots to get familiar with glass panels. I ended up teaching ‘buttonology’ while also making sure I could sign them off as a safe and proficient pilot in their new aircraft.

Over and over, I would fly with customers who were good pilots but whose decision-making skills suffered as they fumbled with buttons and took 5 steps to accomplish what I knew should only take one. I started teaching classes on the Garmin glass panels as part of the golf fly-ins I put together for my clients every year. These became a crowd favorite.

One day, my wife suggested we make an online training course so that pilots could learn to use their G-1000 units while on the ground. They wouldn’t have to waste time in the airplane running up hours on the engine and paying an instructor.

Four years later, at EAA Airventure in Osh Kosh, WI (simply Osh Kosh to the entire aviation world), we launched The Aviator’s Academy. With the help of LeTourneau Alumni Stephanie Mertz and Joshua Stewardson, along with our other fantastic employees and contractors, we had a wonderful week spreading the word about this new resource for the aviation community.

What is The Aviator’s Academy? I have learned that flying is a hands-on process. It requires multi-tasking, an understanding of complex systems, memorization and intuition. It is very rare that a pilot can read a Garmin manual or take the basic courses provided by the company and actually gain an understanding of their system. The vast majority of pilot’s brains are simply not designed to learn that way.

At The Aviator’s Academy, we created video-based training with a real-life scenario that our pilots can connect with. We shot the course in a Cirrus and we incorporate many of the decisions and pressures a pilot would experience in real life. The course is broken up into the different sections of the trip, starting with pre-flight planning and ending with a successful landing at the pilot’s home airport. Along the way, there are opportunities for the pilot’s knowledge to get tested and chances to practice aeronautical decision-making skills. I believe that when a pilot engages with the material, the learning process becomes enjoyable and effortless.

I am a firm believer in scenario based training in aviation. Scenarios are stories that allow our brains to engage with the material better, keeping the student engaged with the material. In using scenarios, pilots who take our courses will retain knowledge and apply it to the situations that come up while flying.

Scenarios not only are great training tools in flying, they also are applicable to life in the form of stories. My spiritual journey has been impacted by many stories of those who have gone before me in the faith. John Eldredge, author of “Wild at Heart” and “The Sacred Romance", and Donald Miller, author of “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” are two authors that come to mind. These two men, through their books, greatly shaped my faith, demonstrating what a Godly man is supposed to look like (“Wild at Heart”) and what a life story is really supposed to be about (“The Sacred Romance” and “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”).

It was eye opening to me to come the realization that God is the hero of the story, not me. He is the Savior, the champion, the protector, which means I don’t have to be. I carried a lot of stress early on in starting Texas Top Aviation because I thought I was the hero, carrying my family on my back and doing everything I could to provide for them. When I realized that God was the hero, that allowed me to release a lot of stress, while I loosened my grip a little bit on my controlling tendencies. Then I had kids and had to learn to release control all over again!

God has also put spiritual men along my journey to be excellent examples for me to follow in my life. I’ve had business mentors, spiritual mentors, and friends who are ahead of me in experience or in the same stage as I am, allowing those voices to speak in where I really need it. Their stories, or “scenarios”, have been immensely helpful to me.

One that comes to mind was Andrew Visser at LeTourneau. Andrew was my very first flight instructor at LeTourneau. I transferred in at the start of my sophomore year from Indiana State University, so I already had my private pilot’s license. He taught me initially how to use a Garmin G1000 in a Skyhawk, then he taught me how to be a true pilot during tailwheel training in the Citabria. When I came back and worked at LeTourneau as an instructor, Andrew was my boss. He taught me a lot about flying and about life. I would sit in his office on a bad weather day and visit about God, life, family, and each of our stories. Sometimes we would both talk, sometimes one of us would just listen. He and his family even made it to mine and Kelsey’s wedding.

Roger Braun was also a great influencer on my piloting skills during my time at LeTourneau. He was my multi-engine instructor and an excellent one at that. I gained a lot of knowledge from Roger. Finally, Bruce Chase, who is now the chief instructor of the department, taught me how to teach. He was my CFI instructor. We spent many sweaty days in the spring of my senior year with me in the right seat of the Diamond Twin Star stumbling through learning how to be an instructor. He was patient and thorough and always kept his cool in the cockpit.

It took a long time to get to this place. My path is never one I would have guessed, but God has led me down it to a pretty exciting place. I’ve learned business management and marketing, all skills that would have been a handy minor at LeTourneau! All of our successes are due to Him and I am so grateful for all that He has blessed us with. I am always looking for people in my journey to share my stories with and help along the way, just as God has put others in my story to take me along my path.