Whatever Bill Coyner did as a youngster growing up in Lakewood, it stopped whenever an airplane passed overhead.
“I was the kid who’d always look up,” he said. “From the time I was six years old, I wanted to fly. I read everything I could find on how to fly.”
After Lakes High School, Coyner went to college but didn’t like it.
“I came to Clover Park Technical College, got into the two-year program here and earned my commercial pilot certificate and my flight instructor certificate in 1981,” Coyner said. “I wanted to be a 747 captain.”
But at the young age of 22, he found himself up against experienced pilots going for the same jobs – pilots who had far more flight hours than he did.
“So I worked as a flight instructor at Clover Park and built my hours up,” Coyner said. “I found I really enjoyed teaching.”
Still, when regional airline West Airlines called, Coyner flew off.
What he found wasn’t the job he’d dreamed of. He had to spend days away from his wife and two young children.
“When my old instructor at Clover Park called to ask if I’d like to come back and teach, I was just coming off a six-day trip away from home,” he said. “It was an easy call. I thought I’d teach a while, maybe a year, then return to commercial flying.
“That was 22 years ago.”
Coyner has been more than a good flight instructor in those years.
Last month, he was named flight instructor of the year by the Federal Aviation Administration for the Northwest Mountain region.
He has reached a milestone, becoming an FAA master flight instructor. Qualifying requires a pilot certificate with an instrument rating; a ground-instructor certificate with an advanced or instrument ground-instructor rating; and in a 24-month period he had to have trained at least 10 applicants for a practical test – and eight had to pass on the first attempt.
Then there’s this: In more than 10,000 hours in the air, Coyner has never had an accident.
How does he explain that?
“You continually keep your base of knowledge current and adhere to a standard of what you’ll fly in – and what you won’t,” he said. “You have to understand weather and the equipment, and you have to always follow procedure.
“An airplane that’s properly trimmed can fly itself. I watch young students pulling and pushing and reaching and I tell them, ‘Let the airplane do the work.’”
Now 54, Coyner enjoys flying daily from the Clover Park South Hill Campus, which borders Thun Field. Students can learn to be mechanics or pilots, and Coyner is the chief flight instructor. In a given year, the program will have 40 students learning to fly with the help of seven instructors using a fleet of 11 single-engine Cessnas.
“I’ve seen some spectacular things flying – cloud formations, sunsets, weather patterns,” Coyner said. “When we take a student up for the first time, I want ’em to look around. If I know where they live, I might try to fly over their home, give them that perspective.”
Coyner’s father was a physician who soloed in a small plane as a young man but pursued medicine. After Coyner got his pilot certificate, he rented a plane and grabbed his dad.
“I flew my dad to the coast, we had lunch at some little burger basket and I flew him home. It was great to share that with him,” Coyner said. “I lost him to cancer in ’85.”
His wife, Donna, is a private pilot, too. Son Aaron and daughter Sydney pursued other interests, other careers.
Coyner understands. Much as he loves flying, he hasn’t flown on a weekend in months.
“When I get a day off, I don’t want to fly, I want to do something different,” he admitted. “My family got me a kayak for Christmas, and I really love that.”
The joy of flying now is in teaching others to fly.
“I’m having as much fun now as I did 20 years ago. The people who come to school here want to fly. They want to learn, they’re happy to be in school.
“The last time I was tempted to do something different was about 15 years ago. I interviewed with an airline and didn’t get the job. I’m glad it worked out that way.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638