Bridgeport resident Patrick Padilla can sum up his love of flying in one word - freedom.
"That whole three-dimensional feeling of going not only left and right, but up and down," he said. "To me, worries seem to disappear when you take off."
The 34-year-old is the newest flight instructor at Flying Start Aero at the Minden-Tahoe Airport. He had been a student at the flight school ever since deciding to get back in the air in 2008.
"I started flying when I was 22, and then, like everyone else, I quit halfway through," he said. "About four years ago, I decided to get my private license. I flew a little bit, and then I couldn't get enough. I had a smile on my face every time I went up in the air."
Padilla grew up in Bridgeport, where his father, Terry Padilla, retired as Mono County Undersheriff about a decade ago. His wife, Stephanie, grew up in Smith Valley. The couple has two children.
"My son is three and loves everything about airplanes," he said. "Wait, I take that back. He loves everything about helicopters, which are a lot more expensive."
Eight years ago, Padilla and his wife purchased Rhino's Bar and Grill in downtown Bridgeport.
"Having a restaurant in a small town is risky business," he said. "Ultimately, my goal is to fly for commercial airlines."
The family still owns and operates the restaurant, but Padilla has recently been commuting to Minden to work as a flight instructor.
In 2008, when he decided to return to the skies, he earned his private license in four months. He earned his commercial license shortly after that, and then worked with an instructor out of Stead to achieve his multiple-engine commercial aircraft license.
By the fall of 2011, Padilla had logged 250 flight hours. To put that number in perspective, the Federal Aviation Administration requires at least 40 hours for a private pilot license.
"I became a flight instructor at the end of September," he said. "I now have just over 600 hours."
Many of those hours were logged in Padilla's plane, a four-seat Piper Arrow that he owns with his father. They keep the aircraft in the only hangar at the landing strip in Bridgeport.
Once every few months, Padilla flies his family two and a half hours south to visit relatives in Oceanside, Calif. He's flown as far away as Salmon, Idaho.
"It's a neat way to travel," he said. "It opens up so many avenues."
Padilla currently has three students. He said there are three stages of instruction including both ground lessons and actual flying. First, logically, students must learn how to control an aircraft to the extent they can fly solo. Second, students must learn cross-country navigation. The third stage, without which there is no license, students must pass an FAA written exam and an oral and practical exam as well.
The timeline from beginner to licensed pilot varies with participation. Some students complete flight school in six weeks. Others, like Padilla, log time over the course of many years.
"Being an instructor is re-teaching me how to fly. It's interesting to see students struggling with something I've mastered, but then remember I struggled with the same thing," he said. "Every student learns differently. It starts out the same way with five lessons that are identical. After that, it's more random, depending on the strengths and weaknesses of each student."
On Friday, Padilla was on the tarmac checking up on Mike Booher, one of his students who happens to be chief of the Bridgeport Fire Protection District. Booher was preparing to solo a Cessna 172.
"I'm testing next week," he said. "I've already passed the written exam. Hopefully, I do well."
Flying Start Aero is a Cessna Flight Center, which means it offers a standardized pilot program using Cessna planes. A Redbird full-motion flight simulator in the company's upstairs office is used in conjunction with real flight time.
"Cessnas are easy to fly and safe," states the company's website.
Gardnerville residents Keith and Rhonda Jorgenson purchased Flying Start Aero in January. The previous owner, John Brown, opened another school by the same name in Reno, and the two operations share resources and work together.
The Minden school currently enrolls a dozen students, part- and full-time, and employs two instructors, Padilla and Bill Schroeder.
"My husband is a pilot of both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft," Rhonda Jorgenson said. "His passion is flying."
Keith Jorgenson also works as an independent security contractor in Afghanistan.
"He'll be returning in the middle of 2013," Rhonda Jorgenson said. "Myself, I like being a passenger. This is an expensive career and hobby. But once you're in, you're definitely hooked."
As for Padilla's airline prospects, he said it's a tough industry. New FAA regulations will require commercial pilots to have 1,500 logged hours before flying the friendly skies.
"Especially to start, they pay you peanuts," he said. "But who wouldn't want a couple thousand pounds of thrust under their hand?"
Whether he joins the airlines or stays put in Minden, Padilla is happy just flying.
"I love flying. I really do," he said. "If being a flight instructor does it for me, then I'll be satisfied being a flight instructor and running a business in Bridgeport."
Flying Start Aero is located at 1151 Airport Road in Minden.
For more information, call 783-8359, or visit www.flyingstartaero.com.