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Aerobatics Instructor Is High on Flying Just for Fun

In the beginning, says Michael Church, flying was considered more of a sport than a way to get around.

That goal of a sporting good time is why he teaches aerobatic flying in an open-cockpit biplane.

“Originally when people started to fly, it was all sports,” said Church, 48, the owner of Sunrise Aviation in Costa Mesa. “The challenge was to get something heavier than air up in the air.”

But even with the excitement of aerobatics and another passion, glider flying, Church needed more.

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So he found parachute jumping. Church considers it to be another sporting challenge, even though he doesn’t consider himself particularly adventuresome.

He has made 180 jumps, “all of them successful,” as he likes to say.

“I started parachute jumping out of boredom,” said the former Yale University student who majored in English literature and later took a job as a bookkeeper in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. “Actually I started flying when I started parachute jumping.”

The Caribbean is also where he began his flying career.

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“The only way to get anywhere from there was to fly,” said Church, who admired the island culture and scenery and also learned to sail his mother’s 30-foot sloop.

Although infatuated with the islands, Church realized that they were not the best location to make a living and moved to Orange County, where he made money buying, fixing, remodeling and reselling homes, mainly in Corona del Mar.

When the real estate market changed in 1980, Church said, “faster than the fastest jet I went back to flying.” It was then that he developed his school.

Although he and other instructors are mainly concerned with teaching flying in the 37 airplanes in his flight business, there are plenty of fliers who yearn to put their planes though aerobatics.

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And some like to soar, said Church, who earlier was a glider instructor.

Generally speaking, he said, those into acrobatics and soaring are young, career-minded fliers looking for a recreational outlet with thrills.

“I continue to have one or two students at a time who want to learn aerobatics,” he said. “One of the nice things about teaching is you get to fly while others take care of the expense of the plane. It’s a reasonable way to pay for your own flying.”

Flying continues to fascinate Church, president of the Orange County Airport Assn., which represents general aviation in the county.

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Church, a member of the San Diego chapter of Hammerheads, a unit of the International Aerobatics Club, said that teaching pilots aerobatics is his most rewarding enterprise.

“They are generally bright, alive, vital people who are seriously interested in doing something special,” said the one-time motorcycle racer.

Church gave up motorcycle racing, saying he was never sure he would survive.

Not so with flying.

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“It’s moderately adventurous, but not really dangerous,” he said. “It’s a mistake for anyone to say flying is dangerous at all.”


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