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CFI David Strassburg remembers what it’s like to be a student

David Strassburg been named 2021 Best Flight Instructor for the Eastern region in AOPA's Flight Training Experience Awards. Photo by David Strassburg.

“I liked being a student. I like learning,” said Strassburg, who has been named 2021 Best Flight Instructor for the Eastern region in AOPA’s Flight Training Experience Awards. He instructs at Northampton Aeronautics at Northampton Airport in Massachusetts.

Strassburg’s embrace of the “always learning” mindset has made him a popular and sought-after flight instructor, because he remembers what it’s like to be in a student’s shoes. He himself learned to fly at age 19, and came to flight instruction after working in the pharmaceutical industry and launching a medical device company with his father. He’s been able to transition from that business to full-time flight instruction, and he loves it.

Strassburg has carved an unusual niche for himself in general aviation: He concentrates on accelerated multiengine training, with glider training occupying a lot of his time when the seasons permit it. He jokes that he “covers everything non-single-engine.”

The glider training is a focus of his time and energy because it draws young people into aviation. “They have [the] potential to be really good pilots but we don’t have a place for them,” Strassburg said. Glider flying fills part of that need, because young people can solo and earn their glider certificate at age 14. Northampton hosts glider flying summer camps, with flight instruction in a durable Schweizer SGS 2–33.

Strassburg believes that each flight lesson should have a purpose. “You have to have a mission to make the most of [students’] time,” he said.

He’s also a believer in using flight simulators to enhance learning. Northampton Aeronautics has a Redbird flight simulator that Strassburg rigged with a camera so that he can externally watch a student go through a maneuver. He also uses it for multiengine training, for example simulating a single engine failure on climbout from an aircraft carrier. (Try replicating that at your local airport.) And, he built a portable cockpit to use with the Condor flight sim program for glider training. “We don’t always necessarily need to get in the airplane to do the things we need to do,” he said.

His students say Strassburg excels at recognizing a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and learning style, and tailoring his teaching style accordingly. “You have to tell [students] what they’re doing right,” he said.

Whether you’re a flight instructor who’s logging time in anticipation of flying for the airlines, or an aviator who wants to give back to the community—or anywhere in between—Strassburg would like to remind you that “you have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference in what happens” when your students are flying on their own—if they should get into a hazardous situation.

“Do the best you’re can while you’re here,” he said. “You owe it to your students and you owe it to yourself.”

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