Learn how to fly at Mount Pleasant Flight Training School
By Sophia Rodriguez
There’s nothing quite like flying. That sensation of speeding down a runway, faster and faster, leaving your worldly woes far behind. Then you feel the front of the plane tilt upward. You start to feel a lightness take over, physically and mentally. As the plane climbs higher, there is a fleeting — but distinct — moment when you feel no weight in your body whatsoever. In that moment, gravity seems suspended; nothing can hold you down.
Moments like these are why some people decide to become pilots. Whether they want to show their friends a bird’s-eye view of the Lowcountry during a leisurely flight or they want to start training for a career in aviation, the Mount Pleasant Flight Training School at the Mount Pleasant Regional-Faison Field Airport next to Park West is the place to learn how to fly. Their aircraft fleet includes Diamond DA40, Cirrus SR20 and Cessna 172 planes.
“These are good planes for student pilots because they’re very safe and they have a platform that’s easier to learn on,” said co-owner Julie Grundahl.
She and her husband, Scott, took the reins of ownership last summer. Both Grundahls are retired Air Force colonels with a combined 47 years of experience that includes deployments to Iraq, combat search-and-rescue missions, searching for missing American prisoners of war.
Owning and operating a flight school was a long-time dream for the couple, even in the middle of the pandemic. The school never completely shut down because it fell under the umbrella of transportation services, which was a waived industry under state mandates.
“It was kind of fortuitous because when the state came out of lockdown in May, everyone’s summer plans were cancelled,” Julie said. “So, we had this huge influx of people who were looking for something, anything to do after being cooped up at home.”
The staff was diligent about disinfecting the cockpits after each use and wearing masks. The school had so many people interested in lessons over the last year that the Grundahls were able to add two planes to their fleet.
“We always get an upswing in the summer with students coming back from college. Plus, the days are longer, so we can fit more instruction time in the day,” said Scott Grundahl.
They currently work with nine independent instructors and a subcontracted mechanic. The minimum age to fly a solo flight is 16, and you have to be at least 17 years old to earn a license. Scott said they have a lot of students in that age range who are pursuing their private licenses.
“We’re not military-style instructors in terms of being drill-sergeant types,” said Julie.
While there is some written study material for students, Julie and Scott instruct primarily from the cockpit.
“The thing I like about our business is that it has that mom-and-pop, Main Street balance…yet we’re experienced and professional. We don’t want people to feel that intimidation factor.”
The couple met in 1993 when they were cadets at the Air Force Academy. They married in 1995 and did their undergraduate pilot training together a few weeks later.
Once they were training brand-new pilots on T-37B twin jets, they realized they wanted to be instructors after they retired from military life. They chose the Charleston area not only because they have family here, but the good weather and great scenery made it an attractive locale for flight instruction.
Roughly two-thirds of their students are aiming to get licensed as private pilots, and the remaining third are seeking advanced degrees and/or a commercial pilot’s license. Some of their students are either in the military or are interested in joining, and they also get a lot of ROTC cadets and recreational students training to get their flight instructor certification.
Julie and Scott said the training they offer makes their students more qualified and competitive when they apply for piloting jobs or more specialized training.
“Both military and commercial [aviation] have huge shortages of pilots,” said Scott, citing the aging workforce and mandatory retirements in aviation as big reasons. “We need to produce more pilots for these industries.”
The Grundahls enjoy sharing their love of piloting with people from all walks of life. “Here, I get to fly with kids whose parents want them to really experience flight. And then I fly with an 80-year-old who flies weekly,” Julie said. “Everybody comes out, and if they have a dream to fly, they can come. This is for everybody.”
For more information, visit www.mtpleasantflighttraining.com or call (843) 892-9380.